Scientists Track Alabama Bear Cub Survival Rate


This photo was taken in Saraland, AL. Researchers think the state's black bear population could be at risk due to the disappearance of traditional bear den habitat.

Fontaine Radcliffe Howard, Auburn University

Alabama is home to two different populations of black bears. There is a small group in the northeast around Little River Canyon, which appears to be growing quickly. And then there is a larger group to the south near Mobile. The population there isn’t growing like it should, according to Todd Steury, a wildlife ecologist at Auburn University. Over the past few years, Steury and fellow researchers have noticed a problem in the area.

“We would go in and we’d visit the dens in spring and we’d count two, three cubs,” Steury says. “But then later in April or May we might only see one cub. And so we were very concerned that maybe cubs weren’t surviving.”

Steury thinks this could be related to the disappearance of traditional bear den habitat. In the past, bears along the coast used old hollowed-out cypress trees to rest or hibernate. But there aren’t many of these trees left. Steury says now, bears are making nests in the ground, like big shallow birds’ nests. These might not provide enough protection for cubs.

Steur recently received a $1.1 million grant from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to study the problem.

This bear den is a shallow nest in the ground. Researchers say this type of den might not provide enough protection for bear cubs.
Chris Seals,Auburn University

This bear den is a shallow nest in the ground. Researchers say this type of den might not provide enough protection for bear cubs.

For the next five years, Steury’s team will study this behavior and track the survival rate of black bears throughout Alabama. The research could help stabilize and improve the population, which Steury says is good for the ecosystem.

“It’s something that in conservation circles we call an umbrella species,” Steury says. “In that, if you protect this animal, it serves as an umbrella and it protects a whole lot of other animals too.”

Steury says most people want to protect bears, but they don’t want the animal close by. For those who happen to encounter a black bear, Steury’s advice is to make a lot of noise and back up slowly.

More Environment Coverage

Legislative Wrap-Up: What Died And What Passed On The Final Day

Many bills made it out before Monday's deadline. But the lawmakers also expect a special session later this year.

Alabama Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Legislation

Lawmakers had a change of heart after decades of debate on the issue.

UAB Closes Three COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Sites While Alabama’s Vaccination Rate Remains Below 50%

UAB announced this week it's closing the majority of its public COVID-19 vaccination sites because of a decline in participation. Meanwhile, Alabama remains at the bottom nationally for the number of adults that have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

‘When Buses Were A-Comin’: Remembering The Freedom Riders 60 Years On

A group of young civil rights activists began their journey to the South to challenge segregation on interstate buses in May 1961. The riders were taunted and beaten by white mobs – and jailed. Participants of the movement share what their fight means now.

Using Pastors And Pints, Gulf States Try To Boost COVID Vaccination Rates In White Communities

Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have the lowest vaccination rates nationally, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Health officials are considering creative incentives to get the numbers up from church events to possible beer giveaways.

As Demand Drops, Health Officials Look For Ways To Encourage Vaccinations

Health officials say at first they were focused on vaccinating elderly and at-risk people in Alabama. Now the focus is shifting to people who are skeptical or apathetic about the vaccine.

More Environment Coverage