It's a Living: Bear Wildlife Biologist, Ouachita-LeFlore Wildlife Management Area in Okla

Article excerpt

Most people don't understand that black bears, even the biggest at about 600 pounds, would prefer to stay far, far away from humans, Jeff Ford said.

Fortunately, the extent of their range in Oklahoma is limited to about four counties in the far southeastern part of the state, where the Department of Wildlife Conservation biologist is one of the few people who come into regular contact with them. Human-bear conflicts are still rare, Ford said, although the population is growing.

Ford's not officially a bear specialist - truth be told, his favorite wild animal is white-tailed deer - but Ursus americanus doesn't wander far from forested area under Ford's oversight, designated the Ouachita-LeFlore Wildlife Management Area. He also keeps track of the health of the local squirrel, otter, coyote and bobcat populations.

Ford is preparing for a series of hunting seasons, kicking off with dove on Sept. 1. Most of the other trophy species will be available to harvest in October - bear archery, for example, runs Oct. 1-20 and muzzle-loaded weapons are allowed for bear Oct. 23- Nov. 3. One of Ford's responsibilities is to ensure that hunters don't deplete the bear population.

Lately, those numbers have been on the rise to an estimated 2,000. Black bears native to the heartland of North America were wiped out by hunters in the 18th century, he said, so in the 1960s and '70s conservationists relocated northern bears into Arkansas and Missouri. …

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