Interior to delist Louisiana black bear

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, March 10, 2016 - After 24 years of federal protection, the Louisiana black bear - the inspiration for the teddy bear - will be delisted under the Endangered Species Act.

The story behind the “teddy bear” starts in 1902 when President Teddy Roosevelt refused to kill a Louisiana black bear that had been trapped and tied to a tree by members of his hunting party. The hunting scene was later captured in a Washington Post political cartoon, and inspired a Brooklyn candy-store owner to create the stuffed teddy bear toy.

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Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said President Roosevelt would have embraced the delisting of the bear today.

Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation's wildlife,” she said. “The Louisiana black bear is another success story for the Endangered Species Act.”

The bear's habitat mostly falls on private lands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a release. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helped Louisiana farmers voluntarily restore more than 485,000 acres of critical bottomland hardwood forest habitat for the bear, and assisted in setting up conservation easements for the restoration of habitat on marginal farmland.

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“Farmers played a pivotal role in helping the Louisiana black bear recover,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release. “By working together, we're able to achieve more conservation, direct resources where biological returns are highest and achieve a larger habitat footprint spanning public and private lands.”

The Louisiana black bear was listed under the ESA in 1992 when the population had dropped to 150 bears due to habitat loss and human-related mortality. FWS says the three subpopulations of the species in the Tensas and Upper and Lower Atchafalaya River basins have increased in number to between 500 and 750 bears, and have stable growth rates. Additional breeding subpopulations are forming in Louisiana and Mississippi as well, the agency says.

The delisting decision will be published in the Federal Register on March 11.

Photo of FWS employee holding Louisiana black bear cubs is courtesy of FWS.

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