With classes heating up I have not had much time to write lately. However this piece happens to be the direct byproduct of a recent overnight trip for my wildlife techniques class.

On October 1st my techniques class went camping in bear country. That is to say we were camping on the Pushmataha  Wildlife Management Area in Oklahoma. Yes, Oklahoma has a decent sized bear population. So there I was laying in a sleeping bag under the stars in the “heart of bear country” when I was inspired to write this piece.

The American black bear, Ursus americanus, once ranged all across North America including all of the land that now makes up Oklahoma. However human encroachment decimated black bear numbers to the point that by the early 1900s the sighting of one was incredibly rare. Fortunately thanks to proper conservation programs by wildlife agencies the black bear is once again one of the most widely dispersed predators in North America. As habitat generalists they can be found in most states all the way from Alaska to Florida. They are highly adaptable and can live in most North American habitats and feed on whatever they can find. Recently they have been on the news a lot because of their nuisance behavior in places such as New Jersey, not exactly where most people expect to have trouble with bears.

Black bears made their way back to Oklahoma in the late 1900s (1970s-1980s). According to the Black Bear Society the state of Oklahoma has roughly 800 bears. These bears are distributed across the eastern third of the state with the highest concentrations in south eastern Oklahoma, right around Pushmataha. On a national scale BBS estimates there are over 530,000 black bears.

I have had the fortune to observe black bears for six years now, although I have unfortunately not seen one in Oklahoma. Most of my encounters with have been from tree stands however I have been on the ground with them a few times. Once I even had one try to climb in a boat with my while I was fishing in northern Saskatchewan. Although each bear has a different personality and behavior one fact has remained constant with every bear I have encountered. They always know right where I am long before I ever see them. Just about every time I have been around bears my first sight is of the bear staring at me. If they do not already have their eyes on me they normally look at me within a few seconds of arriving. They know I am there, but except for the smallest bears they typically show no fear.

These thoughts were running through my head as I lay there enjoying a cool October evening under the stars. By morning I had abandoned my post under the stars and instead slept on the floor of the little shack they had opened to us. Not for fear of the bears. I do not fear the bears, although I do respect them and realize that they can become dangerous. No the critters that made me seek better shelter were much smaller… scorpions. After I caught two of them trying to get into my sleeping bag I decided to signal the retreat. As a wildlifer I realize all critters play an important role in the ecosystem. However that is a topic for later discussion, and I am intending to start a series on some of the lesser known or small creatures and their ecological value, but for now I will just say that my sleeping bag is not the proper ecosystem for them.