Black bear sighted near Natchez Trace

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2006

&8220;I was just so thrilled to see it,&8221; McGehee said Monday afternoon of her experience with the animal on the Trace.

Waiting at the parking lot leading to the ruins of the Elizabeth Female Academy, McGehee and her grandaughter looked up and saw through the truck window a black bear standing about 50 yards away on the sidewalk. &8220;I was just stunned,&8221; McGehee said. &8220;He stood there looking at us for at least 15 seconds.&8221; Before McGehee&8217;s granddaughter could snap a photo through an opening in the door, the bear disappeared into the woods.

&8220;Outside of the zoo, I have never seen a bear in my life,&8221; McGehee said. But that was not the only sighting of that same animal, black bear biologist Brad Young said Monday.

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Young, who works with the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, said that the same bear was spotted two days in a row in the same area just off the Trace. &8220;Two people have spotted a lone bear wandering through the woods,&8221; Young said,

And as uncommon as it might seem, black bears have been living in Adams County for years.

According to Young, black bears live up and down the Mississippi River corridor, including areas near Natchez.

&8220;Natchez is sandwiched between areas to the north and south that are known to have bears,&8221; Young said. Both Anna&8217;s Bottom, to the north, and St. Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge, to the south, are locations where there have been numerous sightings of black bears in recent years, Young said.

Last year, Young identified a set of bear tracks at the refuge. &8220;So, it is not surprising to hear of bear reports in the area,&8221; Young said. Between trail photos sent in to his office and phone calls received, there are usually five to six reports a year in the Adams County area, Young said. At any given time there are about four bears who live in the area. Occasionally there is the rare case where a bear can become a nuisance. Last May, a bear was found in a backyard of a house near Beau Pr/ Country Club.

The house owner&8217;s Jack Russell terrier

chased the bear up a tree.

But for the most part, bears are not something to fear, Young said.

&8220;They are so shy and so secretive that they make a point of staying out of the way of people,&8221; Young said. &8220;They are not a threat to people as long as they are left alone.&8221;

Young&8217;s advice for those who do see a bear is to leave the animal alone and then call his office in Jackson to report the sighting.

&8220;It helps us keep a handle on the population levels in the state,&8221; Young said.

Black bears in the bottom two-thirds of the state (roughly south of U.S. 82) have been identified as a federally threatened animal, much like the bald eagle, Young said. Hunting black bears is illegal in the area, including Adams County. There are very heavy penalties for killing the animal.

In the event of a bear sighting, contact Brad Young at 601-354-7303.