Black Bears at the Nickel Preserve

Black bears, once common in Oklahoma, are making a comeback.

Black Bear Eating Litter

This young male black bear found a discarded styrofoam plate and was trying to eat it.

After an absence of perhaps a century or more, black bear have returned to the J.T. Nickel Preserve. At least two individuals now reside on the preserve, and the population is expected to continue to grow in future years. The new immigrants are the result of an expanding population in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

Since the preserve was initiated in 2000, conservation planners have hoped that bears would return. Two separate sightings were reported last spring near the west entrance. In July, scent stations were put in place to systematically survey much of the preserve. After observing some very probable sign, a remote camera documented a bear on the Payne Tract in the western part of the preserve.

In spite of their fierce reputation, black bears are solitary animals that tend to shun people. Bears will undoubtedly be attracted to the rugged topography, remoteness, and forested habitats of the Nickel Preserve. Forest, woodland, and savanna restoration activities are expected to provide more of the dense cover and abundant forage that bears prefer.

Bears are opportunistic feeders, and their diet will vary by season. People who view black bears as meat-eating predators might be surprised to learn that bears in the Ozarks get much of their protein from ants. While they prefer berries, nuts, grasses & forbs, they will also consume carrion, fish and small animals.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission started a black bear reintroduction program in the late 1950s. Over the course of a decade, they released 260 animals at multiple sites in high quality habitat within the core of their historic range. With a population across Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma now numbering more than 3,000, the project is widely considered the most successful reintroduction of a bear anywhere in the world.

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  • The J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve is the largest privately protected conservation area in the Ozarks. Learn more


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