The American black bear, Ursus americanus, acheived its evolutionary pinnacle during the final glaciations of the Pleistocene Epoch. During these "Ice Ages" the Ohio River ran roughly parallel to the Mississippi River and entered it around present day Simmesport, Louisiana (Fisk, 1944).

This must have created a vast network of braided streams across the Mississippi Delta, which it must be pointed out, is not the geological Mississippi River Delta at all, but really a river basin, created by the combined erosional activity of these two large river systems.

In wet years these flatlands must have seemed like a giant lake. In dry seasons, they might have emerged as a treeless mud flat, interlaced with sand and gravel exposures.

Prevailing westerly winds blew dust from the sand bars and dried river beds creating huge deposits of loess over the Yazoo bluffs on the east bank of the fossil Ohio River.

Loess, the topsoil of many Mississippi counties bordering the Mississippi Delta, is the accumulation of hundreds of thousands of years of windblown silt from the vast floodplain which became our Mississippi Delta.

Unfortunately during these prehistoric times black bears in Mississippi were not accorded the apex predator status they enjoy today. Two larger species of bears (the grizzly and great short-faced bears), scimitar-fanged sabre-toothed cats, packs of dire wolves, prides of American lions, jaguars, and huge alligators were present in the Lower Mississippi River Valley during this time. (The Ice Age fossil jaws at left were collected from gravel bars in the Mississippi River bed in NW Mississippi.)

The black bear's survival strategy then, as now, consisted of "Climb a tree." Though it would appear not to work in the world of spears, arrows, shot, and shell, that survival technique must have been a good one. Long after all of these other predators became extinct, there were still enough black bears in Mississippi at the turn of the 20th century for Holt Collier (1848-1936), reknowned bear hunter and guide, to reportedly have claimed to have killed over 2000 of the animals.

Ursus americanus, present in the northern counties, was not afforded "Endangered" status in Mississippi until 1984; the Louisiana subspecies, Ursus americanus luteolus, inhabiting the southern counties, in 1992.

According to Brad Young, bear biologist at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) in Jackson, there may be around 80 black bears in Mississippi today, mostly dislocated males, inhabiting the Mississippi River counties.

Exiled from populations in neighboring states, they seem to be having difficulty establishing a breeding population. Males tend to occupy a larger territory than females, so it is likely that females are not traveling outsde their home grounds at a comparable rate.

Habitat destruction is cited most often as the cause for this animal's decline in Mississippi. Over eighty percent of their forest habitat has been altered or destroyed in preceding centuries.

However, in July 2005, a female Louisiana black bear, wearing a radio-collar, crossed the Mississippi River and became the responsibility of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Young began tracking the sow via satellite GPS.

On March 2, 2007, a den check in Issaquena County, near Valley Park, revealed the birth of her two female cubs! These are the first documented black bear births in the Mississippi Delta in 30 years! The female had denned on private land which was enrolled in 1997 by the owner in the "Wetlands Reserve Program", which promotes restoring suitable habitat for black bears and other species.

The den check was conducted by Brad Young and United States Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Shauna Ginger, who stated,

"We knew that reforested land would grow to make valuable wildlife corridors, but discovering this productive den site in an early-successional WRP tract goes to show that bears are not just passing through this habitat, they're setting up house,”

She added, “This potential breeding population of Louisiana black bears in Mississippi moves us one step closer to recovery and delisting for this species." The mother and cubs were last seen in Mid-September, 2007.