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The black bears return to Texas

Very cool.

SOMEWHERE IN BLUE ELBOW SWAMP — Hope, sometimes, is based on the strangest things. Here, deep in the near-impenetrable thickets of the Sabine River basin, it rides on sardines and tampons soaked in pastry filling.

That exotic bait, researchers anticipate, will lure the elusive black bear out of hiding, leaving behind exciting evidence of its renewed presence in its long-abandoned East Texas stomping grounds.

Once legion in the region’s swamps and forests, black bears effectively vanished from Texas by the mid-1960s — victims of overhunting and habitat destruction. But now, graduate students from Nacogdoches’ Stephen F. Austin State University, heartened by repeated reports of sightings, have taken to the woods to determine how many of the “threatened” animals may have returned.

Under forest wildlife management professor Christopher Comer’s supervision, master’s degree candidate Dan Kaminski last week began setting hair-snare traps — fragrant baits surrounded by a barbed wire-barrier — in swampland near the Texas-Louisiana border. The three-year project ultimately will encompass a vast swath of East Texas, notably the once bear-infested Big Thicket.

The history of the bears in Big Thicket is really interesting. I had no idea there had once been so many bears there. I just don’t associate bears with Texas. And now I know why.

Meanwhile, back in the swamp, Kaminski and his colleagues, scratched and sweat-drenched from their initial outing, plotted their next move.

Siegmund suggested sardine cans be only partially opened lest the contents quickly fall victim to insects.

Kaminski explained that, in efforts to maximize the appeal of his hair-snare traps, he would introduce a new variety of bait: a three-to-one mixture of cattle blood and fish oil. He already has found a slaughter house to provide his supplies.

I have to ask: Have you considered using picnic baskets? I hear they’re quite effective. Might also help us determine if our bears are smarter than average or not.

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