Along with “are there alligators in Arkansas” the animal question we are most commonly asked about our state is are there bears in Arkansas?
Are There Bears in Arkansas.”
The answer is yes, there are bears in Arkansas! In fact the bear population in Arkansas is actually increasing. You could say that bears in Arkansas are making a comeback.
What Type of Bears Live in Arkansas?
The bears that live in Arkansas are the American black bear. (ursus americanus)
The black bear is the smallest of the bear species that live in America. They are fast runners and great tree climbers and typically live alone and in heavily forested areas.
Don’t Feed the Bears!
They are omnivores and their diet varies depending on where they live. Their favorite foods are things like acorns, nuts, and berries.
They do seem to be fairly opportunistic about their food though. This means that they are sometimes attracted to towns and communities due to readily available sources of food.
They can develop a taste for human garbage which is why campers need to be especially careful about disposing of trash and keeping their food closed tightly and put away safely.
In other words: Don’t feed the bears!
Are the Black Bears Actually Black?
Black bears actually come in various shades of brown to gray to cinnamon to black.
Even if you see a brown bear in Arkansas it is still a black bear.
Do Black Bears Hibernate?
No, black bears in Arkansas don’t truly hibernate.
They do “hunker down” in rock formations and hollow trees and sleep a lot in the winter. But they are not truly hibernating and will definitely notice if you happen to stumble across their hidey hole.
The bears do come out of winter hungry and looking for food. They are most active in the spring and this happens to also be cub raising time.
How large are the black bears in Arkansas?
Male black bears typically weigh between 130 and 500 pounds, while smaller females weigh 90 to 350 pounds.
Black bears are about three feet tall at the shoulder when on all fours and five to seven feet tall when standing upright.
Most of the bears in Arkansas are on the smaller side.
History of Bears in Arkansas
You see, once upon a time there were so many bears in Arkansas that the unofficial nickname of the state was “The Bear State.”
There is even a town with the quirky name of Oil Trough. Why is that interesting to know?
Well, so many bears lived in the area where Oil Trough is located that the hunters would save the bear oil in large wooden troughs.
These troughs would eventually be floated down river to be sold. It is said that they took the oil down the river as far as New Orleans.
In other words, there used to be a LOT of bear in the mountains of Arkansas. It is estimated that there might have been as many as 50,000!
What Happened to All of Those Bears?
Bears were an important part of the economy of Arkansas.
They were hunted for their valuable and lucrative meat, fat, and hides. Bear fat or oil was especially prized. It was used for oil lamps, as a bug repellent, and even as a hair gel!
In addition, settlers began clearing the land for farming. The preferred forested habitat of the bear was quickly disappearing.
The bear population diminished quickly due to over-hunting and habitat loss. It is thought that by the 1930’s there may have only been 50-100 bears left in the entire state.
These animals that had once been such an important part of the ecosystem and economy of the state were basically gone.
How Did the Bears in Arkansas Make a Comeback?
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission decided to step in to try to save the Arkansas black bears.
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the AGFC imported over 250 black bears to reinvigorate the state’s population.
Bear hunting was officially banned in 1927 and that ban continued until 1980. The repopulation of black bears in the state is one of the most successful reintroductions of a large carnivore ever achieved.
How Many Bears Are in Arkansas Currently?
The current bear population of the state is estimated to be about 4,000 bears and that number is actually increasing.
Whether that is a good thing or a bad things depends on your perspective.
Where in Arkansas Are You Most Likely to See a Bear?
If you visit Mount Magazine State Park you will see plenty of signs to be on the lookout for bears. Most of the bears in the state are in heavily forested, rugged and isolated areas.
You will mostly find them in the Ozark Highlands area, the Ouachita National Forest, and the lower White River basin. However, the bears are beginning to spread into other areas of the state.
Are the Bears in Arkansas Dangerous?
Most black bears are extremely shy and elusive, and usually avoid direct contact with humans.
The black bears in Arkansas are likely to be more scared of you than you are of them. That said, all bears can be dangerous if they feel threatened.
The most dangerous black bear is a mother bear with cubs so never approach a bear cub no matter how cute you think it might be. The mother is likely to be nearby.
What Should You Do If You Encounter a Bear While Hiking?
Despite the extreme rarity of bear attacks on people, you should always be alert when in bear habitat.
Most of our favorite hikes in Arkansas are very well trafficked and you are unlikely to spot a bear on any of those trails. However, if you are in an isolated area you will definitely want to be bear aware.
Look for bear signs including tracks, claw or bite marks on trees, droppings and evidence of digging.
If you are hiking in an area inhabited by bears here are some things that are recommended to do:
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Hike in groups and stay together.
- Keep kids within sight.
- Keep dogs on a leash or leave them home.
- Make human noises such as talking, whistling or singing as you hike or walk through the woods to give any bears the chance to know you are there and to move away.
- If you see a bear be sure and give it a clear escape route
- If you see the bear before it sees you stand still and then slowly move away in the opposite direction
- If the bear has seen you, don’t run, back away slowly.
- Carry bear spray but be aware that bear spray doesn’t work unless the bear is fairly close to you.
What Should You Do If You See A Bear in a Community or Residential area?
Bear encounters in communities around Arkansas have become more common in recent years.
These often happen in the spring and involve cubs. The cubs wander from the mothers and get lost and can end up near a home.
This is what you should do if you sight a bear in your yard or neighborhood.
- Stay away, do not approach the bear even if it is a cub.
- Call the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to let them decide if the bear will need to be removed or will return to the forest on its own.
- In the future buy bear resistant trash containers so that you don’t encourage bears to acclimate to people.
Can You Hunt Black Bears In Arkansas?
Tightly controlled black bear hunting is allowed in the state to help stabilize the bear population.
Hunters will want to check with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission about the licensing and regulations for bear hunting.
More Information about Black Bears
If you want to learn more check out Bearwise.org which is a well done website all about bears. They say that they “help people to live responsibly with black bears.”
They have an entire section about bear safety tips.
This is an article put out by the University of Arkansas specifically about the bears in Arkansas. It is chock full of interesting and useful information.
I hope that this answered some of your questions about the bears in Arkansas.
Thanks so much for stopping by!