SILOAM SPRINGS, AR (KNWA) – The Arkansas black bear population is making a comeback and one Northwest Arkansas resident recently came nearly face to face with one of the animals.
Chris Whorton runs every morning on the Dogwood Trail in Siloam Springs. On Memorial Day, he met something he’d never seen before.
“I came around this corner here, and I looked straight through there, and the first thing I thought was ‘man that’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen!,’ he recalls. “I took about ten more strides, and he come up, off all fours, he was right in the middle of the creek, and he came this direction.”
That’s when he realized it was a big black bear.
“That was the last picture I saw because I turned around and I went the opposite direction,” Whorton adds.
According to Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Supervisor Mark Hutchings, it used to be common to spot black bears in the Natural State.
“Arkansas historically, back many years ago, it was often referred to as the Bear State. It had a very large back bear population,” Hutchings says.
But due to habitat loss, the black bear population was near extinction in Arkansas until reintroduction efforts were made in the 60’s.
“We brought some bears in from other states, and tried to get that population back up. They’ve been pretty successful. I think our statewide population is estimated at somewhere close to 5,000 animals,” adds Hutchings.
Hutchings says this time of year, young male black bears tend to look for new territory, giving them more opportunities to run into people.
“Usually they’re just on the move, and they’re gonna be there and gone in a short period of time,” he says.
And as for Whorton, he says he’ll run on the trail again, but next time he’ll be more prepared.
“I’m sure I will, I might carry some pepper spray next time, but I’m sure I’ll do it again,” he says.