ST. LOUIS — From traps to hunting, recent bear sightings around the St. Louis area have a lot of people talking about what Missouri's growing black bear population could mean for the future.
The sightings are interesting for some and frightening for others. But for Tom Meister, bear sightings are as thrilling as Christmas morning.
“They get me excited,” he said.
Meister is a Wildlife Damage Biologist. He’s been with the Missouri Department of Conservation for more than 20 years.
“I don't do it for the money. I do it because I love it,” he said.
Part of Meister's job includes trapping bears. It’s usually done to get nuisance bears away from people. But he says there’s more to it than that.
“We started this research project about seven years ago and we're figuring out that we've got around 350 bears in the state.”
That's good news for the bears. But, more bears mean greater chances for more encounters with humans. And that could be dangerous for both.
That's why the state may approve limited bear hunting once the population reaches 500.
“Hunting is a management tool,” said Meister. “If we were to start a hunting season we wouldn't want females removed from landscape. But males, yes.”
He says bear populations grew out of control in states like New Jersey and Massachusetts where hunting was once banned.
“Without control, they were getting in trouble all the time. Getting into garbage, beehives, dog food, bird feeders. Now that they allow hunting the population is getting back to a better place.”
Meister will continue studying bears and following his other passion: educating the rest of us.
“To make people aware of the wildlife and how to prevent those issues that might occur.”