Black bears once ranged across North America, including the entire area of what is now Oklahoma, but by the early 1900s, sightings had become rare. Factors like land use changes, unregulated hunting and habitat fragmentation caused black bear numbers to eventually decline drastically.
In the late 1900s, however, black bears began making a comeback in Oklahoma after the successful reintroduction of black bears in the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. That initial relocation of about 250 bears from northern Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada, turned into thousands of bears in the mountains of Arkansas, which then expanded into southwest Missouri and eastern Oklahoma.
This successful restablishment of black bears led to a renewed black bear hunting season in Arkansas in 1980.
Today bears have a growing population in southeast Oklahoma and are an important part of the state's wildlife diversity. Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation have collected biological data mainly from bear surveys and research projects.