The Black Bear Conservation Committee (BBCC) received a top national honor for its work to restore Louisiana black bear populations by building partnerships that unite citizens living in bear habitat.
The Wildlife Management Institute presented its prestigious Touchstone Award to David Telesco, BBCC private lands biologist, during the 72nd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Portland, Ore., on March 23. Telesco accepted the award on behalf of the BBCC.
Founded in 1990, BBCC is a nonprofit organization committed to promoting restoration of the Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) through education, research and management of habitat and populations. BBCC is a broad-based coalition of citizens and more than 60 groups representing private landowners, forest and agricultural industries, utility companies, conservationists, wildlife agencies and university researchers. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is one of those agencies that plays a prominent role as a partner of the BBCC.
The Touchstone Award recognizes individuals or groups for accomplishments that significantly advance natural resources conservation in North America.
"Conservationists nationwide regard the Black Bear Conservation Committee as a model for public and private interests coming together to address conservation issues," says Steven A. Williams, WMI president.
Listed as federally endangered in 1992, the Louisiana black bear is a subspecies unique to the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley - a stretch of land that runs along the Mississippi River through Louisiana. As with most rare species, habitat loss and fragmentation are primary reasons for the bears' decline. Approximately 700 bears currently exist in this region.
Historically, bear populations were highest in the alluvial valley's 24 million acres of bottomland hardwood forests. Because of land drainage and forest clearing, these lands shrank to less than 5 million acres by 1980. Acreage has stabilized since the 1990s due to restoration programs. However, additional lands are needed due to fragmentation that reduces habitat size and impacts how bears travel and interact.
"The Black Bear Conservation Committee accomplishes its mission through credible, science-driven management, building coalitions, and sharing a genuine commitment to restore Louisiana black bears," says Telesco. "Our success comes from seeking input from people who might be affected by a larger bear population. These people ultimately will determine if a healthy bear population is positive or negative. It's important to include folks at a time when many feel excluded from larger processes that impact their lives."
BBCC accomplishments include:
Developed the "Black Bear Restoration Plan" which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) used to create the official Louisiana black bear recovery plan.
Distributed more than 20,000 copies of its "Black Bear Management Handbook" to landowners to help them better understand bears and how to manage bear habitat.
Conducted workshops for more than 800 landowners about incentive programs to aid in wildlife habitat restoration.
Awarded $240,000 in grants to help 12 private landowners restore 1,200 acres of bottomland hardwood forests.
To reach children, BBCC and its partners produced and distributed over 18,000 copies of the multi-media CD "Bears and Birds of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley" and created a bear-based curriculum guide for elementary and middle school teachers, with lesson plans on math, science and geography.
Helped establish annual bear festivals in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, and Franklin, Louisiana, to promote bear awareness and help local economies.
"Since its inception, the Black Bear Conservation Committee has been exemplary in its efforts to establish comprehensive and cooperative partnerships that have resulted in restoring over 1 million acres of forest in Louisiana black bear habitat," Williams says. "WMI congratulates the Black Bear Conservation Committee for its amazing success."
For more information, contact David Telesco, BBCC, at 225-763-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.