LITTLE ROCK – Once so numerous that Arkansas was nicknamed the Bear State, the bear population is holding steady at about 4,000, the state Game and Fish Commission heard Thursday.
As a whole, the animals are doing well over the state, Myron Means, the agency’s bear program coordinator, told the commission.
Bears were once hunted commercially in Arkansas for their fat, which was rendered into oil before the abundance of petroleum. The bear population declined by the 1950s, wiped out in the mountain areas and numbering only three dozen or so in the lower White River country.
A restoration was begun in 1958 with 254 bears brought into Arkansas, mostly from Minnesota and Ontario. Their numbers increased and limited hunting was opened in 1980.
Means reported Thursday that 431 bears — 264 males and 167 females — were taken and checked by hunters during the 2012 bear hunting season, Archery hunters accounted for 359 of that total, and 297 bears were taken on private land. Madison, Franklin, Polk and Scott counties continued to lead the state in number of bears harvested.
Means also noted that nuisance bear calls answered by the AGFC totaled 130 in 2012, which is in the average range; the number of calls peaked at 314 in 2007.
Game and Fish biologist Mark Barbee updated the commissioners on the 2012 alligator hunt. Barbee said 30 alligators were taken by permit holders; 47 tags were issued. The largest alligator in six years of hunting seasons was taken by Mike Cottingham during the 2012 season. It stretched 13 feet, 3 inches. Barbee said about 3,000 people applied for alligator hunting tags.
In other action Thursday, the commissioners:
— Approved naming a boat ramp on the east levee of St. Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area near Marked Tree in Poinsett County the Don Lovell St. Francis Sunken Lands WMA Access. Larry Donald Lovell Jr. was a hunter and angler who died in a hunting accident in 1986 at the age of 14.
— Approved a $100,000 budget increase to retain Stone Ward, a Little Rock advertising and public relations firm, for consultation and public policy.
— Approved donation of 25 used single-shot .22 rifles to the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, to be used in gun cleaning classes. The panel also approved donation of a used boat and trailer to Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.