Louisiana black bear, inspiration for the teddy bear, removed from endangered list

Great news for the teddy bear! U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced Thursday that the Louisiana black bear, which inspired the teddy bear, is being taken off the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

In a statement, the Department of the Interior explained that the bear became part of American culture after a hunting trip to Mississippi in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt, who famously refused to shoot a bear that was trapped and tied to a tree by members of his hunting party. The episode subsequently featured in a Washington Post cartoon, which in turn inspired a Brooklyn candy-store owner to create the “Teddy” bear.

“President Theodore Roosevelt would have really enjoyed why we are gathered here today,” said Secretary Jewell, during an event at the Tallulah office of the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, where Louisiana's biggest black bear population is found.  “Working together across private and public lands with so many partners embodies the conservation ethic he stood for when he established the National Wildlife Refuge System as part of the solution to address troubling trends for the nation’s wildlife.”

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Jewell added that Louisiana black bear is another success story for the Endangered Species Act.

The black bear, which once roamed Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, is now found in two parts of eastern Louisiana and in one place along the coast. Its removal from the federal list means the state will now take over work to protect it.

The majority of Louisiana black bear habitat falls on private lands, according to the Department of the Interior, which has worked with the Department of Agriculture and Louisiana farmers to voluntarily restore more than 485,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests in priority conservation areas.

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However, Jewell also urged ongoing efforts to help conserve the bear’s habitat. "The work's not over," she said. "The work's really just beginning to bring back more of these hardwoods so Louisiana can help enjoy the kinds of animals that Teddy Roosevelt saw when he was here at the turn of the century."

Michael J. Robinson, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said one of the groups being counted as Louisiana black bears may not be that subspecies at all, but descendants of black bears imported from Minnesota in the 1960s.

The group was initially excited by the bear’s progress but more recently became aware of a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist's opposition because the upper Atchafalaya Basin area northwest of Baton Rouge, where the smaller eastern group is found, had no black bears until the Minnesota bears were brought in.

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"Rather than contributing to the black bear population, they threaten to hybridize it," and probably should be sterilized or moved back to Minnesota, Robinson said.

Deborah Fuller, a federal biologist based in Louisiana, said the most recent genetic study indicates "the upper Atachafalaya bear comes out as its own thing. Not as Minnesota," though it may have Minnesota genes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.