Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for October 30, 2013

Late one night as I drove out of the hollow and onto the county road along the top of the ridge, my vehicle’s headlights swept what I first took to be a very large black dog. Then something clicked and I realized that I was seeing my first wild Arkansas black bear. It wasn’t that big, as far as bears go, about the size of my old dog, Frost, who weighed 160 pounds. I was amazed at how quickly the bear could move as it leapt the little ditch along the road and disappeared. I stopped and backed up, looking for it in the headlights, but couldn’t find it again.

Arkansas’ first nickname was “The Bear State” and if you read early accounts  you’ll understand why. It’s estimated that the state had 50,000 bears at one time. Local 19th-century pioneer, John Gaskins, said he killed more than 200 here. Overhunting decimated the native bear population, but after decades of careful management, the population is now in the 4,000 – 5,000 range.

Because of the small size of the bear I saw, it might have been a female or a young male. Arkansas has some prime bear habitat and black bears here grow larger than in some other states. There have been boars killed in the annual Arkansas bear hunt that topped 600 pounds. That is a lot of bear.

Although there were only three bears killed by hunters in Carroll County in 2009 (the last year for which I found statistics), we do have several here. I’ve only seen the one myself, but I’ve heard about bears looking in kitchen windows near Hillspeak and getting in the dog food near Holiday Island. For comparison, there were 48 bears killed down in Madison County that same year.

Which leads my thoughts to this: did you know that the United States Census Bureau decided that Madison County is part of the Fayetteville–Springdale–Rogers Metropolitan Area? That means that, according to the federal government, Madison County is an urban area. Don’t get me wrong, I like Madison County, but not because of her big city ways.

If you have seen a bear, let me know at steve@steveweems.com.

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