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The status of black bears in North America ranges from pest to threatened. The species appears relatively secure throughout most parts of its range except the southeastern coastal plain; in this region a number of disjunct populations exist on primarily publicly owned lands. Concern over the status of Ursus americanus luteolus led to a petition to list this subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act is arguably the most important wildlife legislation in recent years. However, applying this valuable, but young, untested, and evolving legislation to the black bear subspecies is judged unwarranted and premature because of the following reasons: (1) extensive restocking efforts with Ursus americanus americanus from outside the region and empirical evidence of breeding with native animals, (2) bears of different subspecies using dispersal corridors and likely past and future artificial shuffling of bears, (3) genetic evidence of a homogeneous population throughout the region, (4) likely influence of nutrient-rich habitats and phenotypic responses by the bears, (5) historically applying artificial subspecific criteria, (6) historically underestimating initial population estimates and documenting these underestimates through intensive site-specific studies, (7) large amounts of existing bottomland hardwood forests in Louisiana and their concomitant relative stability into the future because of public ownership and regulation, (8) recent history of applying the Endangered Species Act to some charismatic megafauna and resulting problems of consistency, equitability, flexibility, expediency, and perceptions as well as breadth of interpreting the present Endangered Species Act, and (9) many remaining important, unanswered questions. Certainly, the more than 30 "populations" in the Southeast need our attention, particularly the smaller, more disjunct ones. The Endangered Species Act is a valuable tool but the wrong one to apply in this instance without substantially more documentation, research, and modification. Help for bears in the region may better be provided through existing state, federal, and private cooperation by a regional organization such as the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.


SuDocs call # I 29.2:B 56/7