Once abundant throughout the United States, the historic range of the American black bear (Ursus americanus) was significantly reduced by habitat loss and fragmentation. In Kentucky, historical accounts indicate that bears were essentially eliminated by the early 1900s. Reasons for that decline included wholesale logging of mature hardwood forests, unregulated hunting and a lack of protected areas.
Currently, black bears are the most abundant and widespread of all eight bear species in the world. In Kentucky, the return of black bears over the last 20 years is proving to be a true wildlife success story. Contrary to some beliefs, however, today’s growing population is not the result of a “restocking” effort. As oak forests matured after extensive logging efforts of the early 1900s, bears recolonized these habitats from our neighboring states of West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.
Vast portions of Kentucky region that were cleared for timber are once again mature hardwood forests. Consequently, bears that filtered into Kentucky from our Southern Appalachian neighbors had access to large, remote tracts of quality forest habitat. As a result, Kentucky is now home to a resident bear population that is experiencing considerable increases in both numbers and range.