Israel Hernandez was expecting to see deer on his trail camera on a hunting lease near San Diego, TX.
After all, the region is known for its large-antlered and abundant whitetails.
He was shocked however to get this photo of a black bear.
This confirmed sighting is evidence of continued black bear movement from Mexico into South Texas.
Last summer we posted a story and accompanying video of a black bear swimming from the Mexican side of Lake Falcon into Texas. You can check that out here.
Black bears are native to both Mexico and Texas.
Ursus americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and Texas. Over the last two decades, they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains and other areas.
Most of the population lives around Big Bend National Park, but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also where this bear was photographed in Duval County and Southwest of there in Zapata County.
Black bears are also slowly returning to the Pineywoods of Texas from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
Black bears are making a comeback in Texas and we lead the coverage on the issue. Subscribe to this blog for in-depth stories of black bears in Texas and information pertaining to mountain and forest wildlife from throughout North America.
“There has been a flurry of bear activity in the Trans-Pecos recently. Reports of black bears wandering into Fort Davis, Alpine, and Fort Stockton were received this past week on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, respectively,” said Michael Janis, TPWD Trans-Pecos District Leader.
Black bears are generally shy, reclusive creatures but there comes a point when populations grow when that can change.
There is no hunting pressure in Texas and Mexico so there is no reason to fear people. In these situations, they may begin approaching human habitations and dry conditions like west Texas is facing now will amplify the issue.
My concern is Texans are not bear aware.
To most encountering bears is something that might happen once-in-a-lifetime when they visit Yellowstone or in the Smoky Mountains.
And these Texas bears are not just in the Trans Pecos.
For more than a decade I have recorded sightings in the Hill Country, South Texas, and along the Middle Coast. The East Texas bear population is a different issue and we will touch more on that next week but there are increasing sightings in the eastern third of the state as well.
Texans need to understand a few things about these unexpected inhabitants of its wildlands.
The following is from TPWD.
Bears have an excellent sense of smell and much of their behavior is driven by their appetite. These natural characteristics can, however, become a problem when bears find an easy meal from a human-related source such as garbage, pet food or corn from a deer feeder. If over time a bear continually finds food around humans, it can become habituated, losing its fear of people and creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Fellow hunters, we are now in the off-season. If you have a bear hitting a feeder, a good option is to shut it down and let the bear move on. Feeding in an area might keep the bear around and give you problems with your feeder (they’ll tear it up) or maybe an unwanted up close and personal encounter.
Another option is electricity.
Bears are sensitive to electricity however, so electric fences can be used to prevent bears from accessing feeders while still allowing deer to reach them because of their ability to jump the fence. Although an added cost, electric fencing can pay for itself in the prevention of lost feed and damage to a feeder.
TPWD biologists say education is the best way to prevent human-bear conflicts
Residents in areas where bears have been spotted should secure anything that could be a potential attractant (e.g. garbage, pet food, bird and deer feeders, etc.). Residents can also choose to invest in bear proof garbage dumpsters, a recourse that many communities in the western U.S. have deployed to reduce or prevent bear encounters. Double-bagging garbage to reduce odors and keeping bags in a secure location until the morning of trash pickup are also encouraged practices. Similarly, TPWD biologists recommend feeding pets inside or limiting pet food portions to an amount that can be consumed completely at each feeding.
Black bears are potentially dangerous animals. And while they are not likely to attack, their ferocity upon attack can be fatal.
In a story in the March/April 2020 edition of Sports Afield, I outlined a surprising study on black bear attack behavior.
A study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management documents 63 people killed in 59 incidents by non-captive black bears between 1900-2009.
Here is the standout quote.
“We judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 88 percent of fatal incidents. Adult or subadult male bears were involved in 92 percent of fatal predatory incidents, reflecting biological and behavioral differences between male and female bears. That most fatal black bear attacks were predatory and were carried out by one bear shows that females with young are not the most dangerous black bears.”
There are a couple of things that should jump out at outdoor lovers here.
If you are attacked by a black bear you must fight back. While many grizzly attacks are territorial or perhaps because the grizzly didn’t like you way you looked that day, most black bear attacks are predatory and nearly all of the fatal ones are. Play dead for grizzlies. Fight like crazy against a black bear.
Big male bears are the biggest threat. If you see one in an area or have game camera photos of one, take extra precautions.
Black bears are protected in Texas, so hunters should keep that in mind and especially when hunting hogs in areas with bear sightings at night. A bear could easily look like a hog hitting a bait pile especially if you are using night vision or thermal imaging.
Black bears returning to Texas is exciting but everyone needs to stay informed. I will continue coverage here as the great American bear returns to the Lone Star State and shows up in places where few expect to see them.
(TPWD is requesting bear sighting information. Click here to find a biologist in your area. Email email@example.com to send bear photos and videos.)
The tracks were so fresh I expected to see their maker appear at any second.
Nearly as wide as my two hands combined and nearly as long as my foot there was no doubt these were left by a very large black bear.
I kept my camera ready as any encounter would be up close and personal.
In a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California, I was at a stretch of river where huge boulders lined the shores, creating a rugged maze.
It was wall to wall granite with the ground being a mix of smaller rock and sand.
The tracks that ended at a huge flat outcropping led me close to the river. The view was stunning and I took time to savor the moment but my quarry remained elusive.
An hour later I found myself a few hundred yards above this location.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught slight movement.
Through the binoculars what looked at first like a bush turned out to be a black bear standing as if something had caught its attention too.
I am not sure if it was the same bear whose tracks I had followed.
Perhaps it had caught scent I left behind but one thing is for sure. The chill that ran down my spine at that moment reminded me of why I pursue wildlife and on this occasion wildlife might have very well been pursuing me.
After all, I was in this majestic animal’s domain.
Ursus americanus is the most abundant bear on the planet with an estimated 600,000 scattered throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. They are a true wildlife conservation success story but not all is well.
Parts of their historic range are devoid of bear while some others are starting to see the first sign in decades.
My home state of Texas is a prime example.
Ursula americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and over the last two decades they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains.
Most of the population is centered around Big Bend National Park but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also as far east as Kerr County.
In fact, bear sightings in the Texas Hill Country have increased dramatically in recent years. One even paid fisheries biologists at the Heart of the Hills Hatchery near Ingram a visit-an area that hasn’t regularly had bear sightings in well over 100 years.
About 10 years ago, a man by the name of Al Weaver sent me a photo of a black bear he encountered while hog hunting with dogs.
The interesting part is that he was hog hunting near Bay City, TX in Matagorda County.
Bears inhabiting the Trans Pecos region near Big Bend National Park and slipping across the border from Louisiana and Arkansas into the Pineywoods are well documented but Bay City is far from these locations.
The dogs they were hunting with scared the bear into a tree and it was left alone while the hunt continued. The photo of this bear is above and as you can see it appears to be a a youngster.
It is most likely a male as young males will often travel far to start searching out mates but (male or female) how far did this one travel?
Lets say that bear entered Texas from Louisiana right at my home town of Orange coming across the Sabine River into the Blue Elbow Swamp which sits literally at the juncture of the Pineywoods and coastal marsh. This would also allow the closest access from Louisiana.
By car this is 155 miles which if you see the blue line would have the bear going through downtown Houston. That obviously did not happen. The straight path would lead it across the fifth largest bay system in the nation. That did not happen either.
The animal would have to at some point cross Interstate 10 or enter the wider spaces of the Sabine just south of Interstate 10 in Orange and maneuver through the coastal prairies, make its way around the Galveston Bay complex and down to Bay City.
What if the bear hailed from the Trans Pecos area-say somewhere near Big Bend in the Lajitas area? That’s a 651 mile drive for us and a 472 mile straight shot by air (or bear) covering all kinds of territory along the way from cities to hunting leases to wildlife refuges to international borders perhaps.
Some might argue this was a captive bear that was released but that is very unlikely. Another possibility this is an undocumented bear that was born somewhere in the middle perhaps in the Hill Country where sightings have spiked in recent years or even in the western Pineywoods or maybe along the coast somewhere.
Did you know there were bear hunting seasons as recently as the 1980s along the Texas coast? In my personal collection I have a hunting regulation book from 1979 that had a bear season in Chambers County and have seen others from subsequent years.
Were there really still a few bears along the coast at that time? Any scientific information is scant but it is an intriguing thought.
No matter where this bear came from its origins are interesting as they defy commonly held beliefs about bears in Texas.
This should serve as a reminder that nature still has plenty of surprises left and that bears can show up unexpectedly-even where no bears are known to roam.
You can subscribe to this blog to get updates on subjects like this by entering your email address at the top right of this page.