© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Missouri’s Black Bear Population Is Rising And Wandering To More Parts Of The State

The number of black bears in Missouri has more than doubled in seven years, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

There are now as many as 840 black bears in the state, primarily in the Ozarks south of Highway 60. In recent years, there have been more sightings of black bears in other parts of Missouri, conservation officials say. 

The presence of black bears has particularly increased near Lake of the Ozarks and in southwest St. Louis County, said Laura Conlee, a furbearer biologist at the Department of Conservation.

“We’ve definitely had bears that have basically followed forested corridors, river corridors, things like that up to St. Louis,” Conlee said. “The bears are filling in a lot of habitat they used to occur in but haven’t for a really long time.” 

Hunting in the 1800s nearly wiped out Missouri’s black bear population. Genetic research has shown that a very small number of black bears remained in the Ozarks for many decades. 

The recent rise in the black bear’s numbers is largely due to successful reintroduction efforts in neighboring states. Some of Arkansas’ population, which is more than 3,000, has moved north to Missouri. 

To help control the black bear population, the Department of Conservation is considering a limited bear-hunting season, but has not announced when that would occur. The department has received more reports about the species being a nuisance in public spaces. For example, in May, a black bear entered a school in Eureka.

An increasing black bear population is a sign of healthy forests, Conlee said. 

“They eat a lot of plant material, and they serve as seed dispersers,” she said. 

Conlee is studying black bear survival rates. State conservation biologists also have put collars on female bears to help track where the species are going and predict what areas might see more black bears.

The Conservation Department has held multiple meetings this summer to share its black bear management plan with the public. The next one is taking place July 30 at the Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center in Kirkwood. 

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit .

Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.