Early records by naturalists and accounts from hunting expeditions indicate that black bears were once abundant in west Texas. Historically, they inhabited the Davis, Del Norte, Glass, Santiago, Chinati, Guadalupe, Chisos and Vieja mountain ranges. However, unregulated hunting, habitat loss, and predator control led to their extirpation by 1950. In the 1980s, black bear sightings increased in Big Bend National Park, and they were listed as threatened by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Black bears have since been naturally recolonizing west Texas, something that rarely occurs for extirpated populations.
The natural recolonization of black bears into the Trans-Pecos is the result of effective efforts by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and private land-owners to manage bears and their habitat. Bear population numbers are low, and their potential for establishing viable populations will depend on the willingness of natural resource managers and private landowners to coexist with bears. Although we do not anticipate black bear populations reaching their former distribution and abundance throughout the Trans-Pecos, our understanding of their demographics, movements, and habitat relationships will allow landowners and resource managers of west Texas to prepare for the return of the black bear.