The Louisiana black bear once ranged throughout LA and parts of MS, AR, and TX. The black bear was common at the time of early colonization, serving as food both for Indians and white settlers. More than 80 percent of prime Louisiana black bear habitat in the Mississippi River floodplain had been lost by the early 1990’s primarily due to clearing land for agriculture. Quality of the remaining habitat has been reduced by fragmentation and human activities.
An 1890 record shows 17 parishes containing bears, all of them in the Mississippi-Atchafalaya region. It was reported that the most extensive areas of bottomland hardwoods in the state have “at least a few bears”, with the greatest number found in the denser woodlands along the Tensas, Red, Black, and Atchafalaya Rivers. In the late 1950s, bears occupied habitat in the Tensas-Madison area in northeast Louisiana and in the lower fringes of the Atchafalaya Basin. The bear population in Louisiana at this time was reported as “sparse” with an estimated 80 to 120 bears. Although there were few bears in the state, hunting was still permitted. It was believed that if bear populations increased significantly, predation and crop damage would become extensive.
Black bear could be legally hunted in parts of Louisiana through the late-1980s, but there was little interest due to low bear numbers and hunts were uncommon. One of the last organized bear hunts in Louisiana occurred December 15, 1955. During this hunt, 5 bears were harvested in the Lake Providence area. It was recommended to the Wildlife Commission that the bear season be closed. Bear hunting was closed the following season and remained closed until 1961. The season was opened again from 1962-1965 with hunting permitted only in northeast Louisiana and in the coastal parishes. The hunting season was again closed from 1966 to 1974. It was reopened in 1975-1987 with hunting restricted to the Atchafalaya Basin. The Louisiana bear hunting season has remained closed since 1988. From 1964 through 1967, 161 black bears were live-trapped in Cook County, Minnesota and released in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River bottoms of Louisiana in an effort to restock black bear to the state. By 1968 there was evidence that the translocated bears were reproducing. However, most of the relocated bears were killed on roads, as nuisance animals, or during recapture.