According to a recent study done by the university, the number of black bears in northeast Alabama has increased.
“We got over 1,000 DNA samples,” said Professor Todd Steury of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. “Several groups around the state helped us collect data.”
There are two main bear-populated areas in the state, including 30 bears around Little River Canyon near Fort Payne, and 85 bears in Mobile and Washington counties.
With the help of Munford High School students, the National Park Service and the Birmingham Zoo, the study also found that the north Alabama black bear population has doubled in the last four years.
“One interesting aspect we observed is that mother bears in north Alabama often have three or four cubs in a litter,” Steury said. “Normally a mother bear has only two cubs.”
Steury said the bears they found north of Mobile had no genetic connection to the other bear populations, and high inbreeding was found in this group. He also said they had the lowest genetic diversity of any comparison population in the Southeast.
“We look at low genetic diversity as a proxy of likely harmful changes at the genetic level,” said graduate student John Draper, who helped with the study. “Long-term studies are needed to determine the effect on the population.”
Steury said the population of bears is continuous with those in eastern Mississippi, and the population rate is unknown right now.
“If you encounter a black bear, you should stay calm, make yourself big and loud, and back away slowly,” Steury said. “A black bear will almost always run away, but, if you are attacked, you should fight back. That differs from a grizzly bear, which, in that case, you should play dead if attacked.”