The Chisos Basin Campground and Chisos Basin Group Campground at Big Bend National Park in Texas were closed last week due to significantly increased bear activity in the area.
“Over the course of the last 2 weeks, the bears have moved from the Window Trail into the campground itself, feeding on mesquite beans, a natural food source,” according to the National Park Service (NPS). “Due to the abundance of mesquite beans in the campground, the bears have become territorial and shown signs of aggression. To keep these bears wild and safe, limiting human food sources and bear–human interactions is paramount. As such, the campground will be closed until the bears move on to other natural food sources.”
All new reservations for the campgrounds have been canceled or relocated. Park staff is also working to accommodate campers displaced by the closure.
“National Park biologists continue to monitor the bear activity and we will reopen the campground as soon as bear activity declines to normal levels in this area,” said Bob Krumenaker, the Big Bend superintendent. “While we regret the inconvenience, protecting both the bears and park visitors is essential. Right now, the bears are hungry and a bit testy and we’re going to give them the space they need to be wild bears.”
Big Bend’s Black Bears
Big Bend National Park — located in southwest Texas along the Texas and Mexico border — includes a large section of the Chihuahuan Desert as well as the entire Chisos Mountain Range. The park, which gets its name from a large bend in the bordering Rio Grande River, is believed to be home to more types of wildlife than any other national park in the United States.
The fact that there are bears in Big Bend “is a wildlife success story,” the NPS explains.
In the early 1900s, black bears were common in the Chisos Mountains. Then, by the time Big Bend National Park was established in 1944, there were no bears in the area. It was the result of cumulative effects like shooting and trapping by ranchers, federal predator control agents, and recreational hunters, as well as loss of habitat due to settlement and development.
After that, although individual bears wandered into and out of the park over the years, sightings were rare.
That situation changed in the late 1980s.
That’s when a female black bear from northern Mexico “descended from the mountains, crossed miles of desert, swam across the Rio Grande, and traversed more desert to reach the forested slopes of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park,” according to the NPS. “She may have led offspring to the Chisos, and probably encountered a wandering male already using the mountain range.”
After that, the bear population in Big Bend began rising. In 1988, visitors reported seeing bears on 27 occasions. By 1996, however, there were 572 reported observations of bears in the park. Today, visitors regularly see bears at Big Bend.
There are now approximately 30–40 black bears in Big Bend, according to the NPS. A healthy adult bear can weigh from 200–400 pounds and can be 5–6 feet tall when standing.
Know Before You Go
The Chisos Basin Campground and Chisos Basin Group Campground in Big Bend are closed until further notice. While the Window Trail is open, it is only accessible from the main trailhead in the Chisos Basin. Its trailhead at the campgrounds is also closed due to the bear activity.
You can monitor current conditions at Big Bend, including if the campgrounds and Window Trail are open and if an extreme heat warning is in place, here.
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