Black bears appearing in Kansas

Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 5:53 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Black bears have been sighted in southeast Kansas.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says two different black bears were recently spotted in southeast Kansas, causing wildlife experts to speculate if a population could become established within the state.

According to the Wichita Eagle, a remote trail camera caught a photo of a bear in Chautauqua County on June 10, 15 days later a different bear was seen in extreme southwest Kansas.

“We’re not really far from populations in Oklahoma and Missouri so we’re getting some of their bears,” said Peek, Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism furbearer biologist “This is the time of year when bears are dispersing. Since 2015 I have at least eight different bears documented in Kansas.”

The KDWPT says bears bring bad news as populations increase across the Midwest.

“They can create a substantial amount of work for an agency, trying to keep peace between bears and people,” Peek said. “Bears bring wildlife issues we don’t currently have to deal with.”

The Eagle says historically, black bears ranged from coast to coast and northern Alaska to Central Mexico, but Peek believes black bears historically lived in Kansas’ rugged country like eastern Kansas or the Gypsum Hills region southwest of Wichita. He says they lived along rivers and streams throughout the state.

The Eagle says in the 1880s Kansas’ black bear population was eradicated as it was across most of America.

According to Joe Jerek, a Missouri Department of Conservation spokesman, Missouri estimates it has between 540 and 840 bears thanks to Arkansas bears expanding their range.

KDWPT says bears have occasionally visited southwest Kansas over the past three decades, especially in years of drought as they wander from New Mexico and Colorado looking for food and water.

However, the Eagle confirms that it has been within the past decade that bears have been reported in southeast Kansas.

“We’ve seen bears in studies go 100 to 150 miles from where you’d typically see them,” Jeff Ford, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife senior biologist said. “They’re ranging out, looking for territory. When they get old enough to be sexually mature, they’ll come back to the main areas. We’ve seen that in our studies several times.”

Peek confirms that there could be a day where Kansas sees the beginnings of its own bear population.

“They exist in other places with similar habitats so I don’t see why they couldn’t make it in parts of Kansas,” said Peek. “They’re very omnivorous, they’ll eat a lot of different stuff, so food wouldn’t be a problem.”

For now, the KDWPT warns not to feed the bears and secure pets when one is spotted in the area.

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