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US Fish & Wildlife rep: Bear refuge area to grow

Brian Pember, Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service addressed Franklin Rotarians Tuesday to champion the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge and its various public uses.
According to Pember, the refuge was established in 2001 to provide habitat for the Louisiana black bear, a subspecies of the American black bear.
“At the time that the refuge was established, the black bear was a federally listed, threatened species,” Pember said. “It has since been de-listed, so we are going through the process to make sure that the population is going to be able to maintain itself, be stable and reproduce.”
Pember said the mortality rate for local coastal black bear populations is most affected by collisions on roads like US 90 and La. 317, and that to protect against black bears having to cross such dangerous roads, the agency will purchase 480 acres of corridor acreage this year that will link the Garden City Unit and the Atchafalaya Basin.
However, Pember also said he anticipates “a long time,” for the bears to learn to utilize the land for its intended purpose.
“The idea is that they will be able to avoid Highway 90,” he said. “Hopefully they will go under Highway 90.
“Once we plant a source of food for them, where we can plant oak trees and mass-producing trees, hopefully in the fall when they need that fat, they’ll just move where their food source is, and they’ll follow those trees under Highway 90 and into the Atchafalaya Basin.”
But Pember’s praise for the refuge’s utility did not stop at black bear conservation. He extolled the virtues of the landscape views and game-spotting opportunities, as well as hunting, fishing, boating and hiking.
According to Pember, hunters in the refuge are required to fill out a daily check card, by which he estimated 600-plus visits per year, the only quantifiable measure of visitation that the refuge affords itself.
Yet, Pember also invited painters, photographers, and all manner of outdoor enthusiast to partake in the refuge’s natural beauty. Especially, he said, around the end of April and beginning of May, when the irises are in bloom on the boardwalk at the Garden City Unit.
He also advised that morning and evening visits are most conducive to wildlife spotting.
Pember said he wants to ensure that the public in St. Mary Parish is aware of the refuge and the bounty of its resources, and that they are welcome to visit any of its five units, parish-wide.
To learn more about the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge, visit http://www.fws.gov/bayouteche/ or call 1-800-344-WILD.

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