After the death of a black bear on a Jefferson County interstate, officials say Franklin County has not had recent bear sightings but residents should still be prepared for the furry beasts.
The bear was struck and killed Tuesday night in the northbound lanes of Interstate 55 near Festus, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
The collision was reported at 8:50 p.m., with the bear last seen alive at 7 p.m.
MDC believes the bear to be around 2 to 3 years old but could not confirm its gender because of the condition of its remains.
The bear is being taken to MDC’s Wildlife Health Veterinary Lab in Columbia for a full autopsy and genetic sampling.
Missouri is home to 900 black bears with both their population and range in which they live expanding, according to MDC.
No bear sightings have been reported in Franklin County, said Dan Zarlenga, media specialist with MDC’s St. Louis office.
“It’s that time of year,” he said. “It could very well happen, we’ve certainly had bear reports in Franklin County before. It’s definitely something that folks should be aware of at this point — that they could have an encounter.”
This is the time of year when bears are on the move, and are seen farther north than their “stronghold” in southern Missouri, Zarlenga said, adding that the Interstate 44 corridor seems to be popular for bear travel.
Two bears were reportedly seen in the county in April 2022, one near the intersection of Highways 185 and YY, south of New Haven, and the other near Highway BB, west of Union.
There was no indication that the bear killed in Jefferson County had been near Franklin County, Zarlenga said. “The only reports we’ve had were around Festus, more or less down the (Highway) 67 corridor, they were hanging out,” he said. “But he could have gone through (Franklin County) and no one reported it, because we didn’t get reports on him until about a week ago, and all those reports were right around the Festus area.”
The most important advice MDC gives to people who see bears is not to feed them. “It may be a short-term thing to help the bear, but in the long term, you run the risk of it coming back,” Zarlenga said.
Zarlenga also advises people not to feed pets outside. “If you must feed your pets outside, feed them only the portion they’re going to need, and take away that food when they’re done,” he said.
Zarlenga advises cleaning outdoor grills or storing them in structures like a shed or a garage. “The same goes for your trash,” he said.
Even birdfeeders can pose a risk, with Zarlenga saying those should be brought inside if bears are in the area.
“We don’t want to give them a food source, we want to keep them moving on,” he said. “The one on I-55, he was hanging around that area for a week, and he was, kind of, getting in to dumpsters and things like that. As long as that bear is tempted to stay in an area like that, he is putting himself at risk because of higher population and more highways and roads.”
For information on bears, or to report a sighting, visit mdc.mo.gov and search for “bears.”