Categories: General
      Date: Dec 20, 2007
     Title: GWF Article on Black Bears of Central Georgia

by Rashida Stanley, Wildlife Biologist
Courtesy of Georgia Wildlife Federation

In the 21st century, something is happening that we thought would never happen so quickly in Georgia. Georgia's outdoor heritage is in jeopardy. Currently, as Georgia's urban and suburban areas are rapidly growing, much of the prime hunting and fishing lands are being sold off for development and more of Georgia's wildlife are either becoming threatened or endangered. As forests and fields make way for roads and homes, Georgia's precious natural, historic and cultural treasures are either being lost or destroyed. If sportsmen and women remain indifferent and are not proactive regarding this statewide phenomenon, we may soon lose a prized natural treasure -- the Central Georgia black bear.

Recent sales of over 300,000 acres of timberland in Central Georgia has resulted not only in the seemingly inevitable loss of two wildlife management areas (Ocmulgee and Oaky Woods) but the uncertain future of the black bears and black bear hunting in Central Georgia. Although 8,200 acres are being leased for Ocmulgee WMA, the Department of Natural Resources has lost over 47% of Ocmulgee WMA to land sales. Currently, Oaky Woods WMA is only guaranteed one renewed lease for the current year.

Before the 1700s, black bears were common throughout all of Georgia. Now, only three distinct populations remain in the state -- black bears in the North Georgia mountians, Central Georgia and extreme Southeast Georgia. The typical lifespan of a black bear is about 8 to 15 years, although it can live over 30 years. The black bears of Central Georgia spend most of their existence hidden among the forests and wetlands along the Ocmulgee River corridor. Black bears are normally active only at twilight or at night. Currently, an estimated 300 black bears roam throughout the area, primarily in Bibb, Houston, Twiggs and Wilkinson counties. They thrive particularly in this area due to Central Georgia's high forest cover and low road density.

Black bears are smart and extremely strong creatures. They are known to be more docile than grizzly bears, and by no means match the occasional bizarre portrayals of seemingly carnivorous grizzly bears attacking humans. Using their keen sense of smell and hearing, black bears normally fear people and avoid contact. However, when offered pet food, trash, birdseed and such, they can lose their fear of humans and become aggressive if the food source suddenly stops. A developed dependence on humans for food significantly lowers a black bear's survival rate in the wild. Like humans, black bears are omnivorous, consuming both plants and animals. They are best left alone to feed on their preferred food sources of nuts, fruits, plants and insects.

Many antive Central Georgians, accustomed to seeing wildlife, have learned to live in close proximity with the black bears throughout the generations. Presently, Georgia hunters are allowed ot hunt one black bear for one day annually in only the southern portion of Ocmulgee WMA. Yet bear-human conflicts will more likely increase as more people not native to the area and unaccustomed to wildlife move into Middle Georgia.

Black bears require forested areas for food, shade and cover. Yet, if black bear critical habitats such as upland and bottomland hardwood forest and wetlands along the Ocmulgee River corridors are not protected and preserved, the black bear of Central Goergia will not only lose its status as a game species, but incidents of black bears appearing in metro areas in search of a food source may become a more common occurrence.

The black bears in Central Georgia are facing increased habitat fragmentation and habitat encroachment. Failure to conserve their habitat could not only result in the elimination of a one-day hunt of black bear in Central Georgia, but more importantly, the extirpation of black bears in Central Georgia, possibly within a decade or two.

A legendary piece of our fine outdoor heritage -- the black bears of Central Georgia -- is being taken from us and our children right before our very eyes. If you as a conservationist don't act now, more of our outdoor heritage will be lost.

Don't delay! Act now:

More information is also available on our {cms_selflink page='68' text='Black Bears in Oaky Woods'} page.