Black Bears really love living in St. Mary Parish. It's one of the three largest Louisiana black bear habitats. Since being listed as threatened in 1992, black bears are making a comeback and people are encountering more bears in St. Mary parish.
St. Mary Parish Government received a grant to develop a black bear awareness program and hired Catherine Siracusa as the St. Mary Parish Black Bear Conflict Officer to handle the increased encounters citizens were having with bears. Meanwhile, St. Mary Parish 4-H was working on wetlands education programming. In 2011, guidance from local youth and adults in the St. Mary Parish 4-H Advisory Committee encouraged a focus on black bears. From there an education and outreach collaboration was born.
Adriana Drusini and Jenni Ducote with St. Mary Parish 4-H and Catherine Siracusa, the St. Mary Parish Black Bear Conflict Officer, teamed up to lead the education program "Louisiana Wetlands & Black Bear Awareness in St. Mary Parish" in the 2011-2012 school year. They have continued this education initiative in the 2012-2013 school year due to its success.
IN one year, they visited every 4-H club meeting, parish activity, and every public parish event, as well as non 4-H school events. They educated youth, their families and the public about the importance of conserving habitat that is ideal for black bear and maintaining the native plant food supply bears need, which is not food scraps int eh neighborhood garbage can. This initiative is making the connection through education that bears need enough wetlands habitat to thrive and people can help by supporting wetlands conservation and native plant diversity while taking action to limit littering and managing their garbage to discourage a bear visit.
This is just a snapshot of this terrific service learning project that provides science-based, hands-on activities and also engages youth to help go door-to-door in communities to get black bear information to people. Students are hearing the message that black bears and people can share the same parish, if we understand the bigger picture.
LWF presented the 2012 Conservation Educator of the Year award to the collaboration of St. Mary Parish 4-H and St. Mary Parish Government for the "Louisiana Wetlands & Black Bear Awareness in St. Mary Parish" program. Adriana Drusini and Jenni Ducote with St. Mary Parish 4-H and Catherine Siracusa, the St. Mary Parish Black Bear Conflict Officer, accepted the award.