RED RIVER COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - A different kind of immigration is putting Texans on guard near the borders. In west Texas and parts of northeast Texas, hundreds of black bear sightings are being reported.
Conservationists are preparing for the bears' big comeback.
"Normally, when we'd be walking through the woods and its getting dark, we'd think that rustle in the bushes was an armadillo, now it makes you think twice," said Don Benton, a Red River County rancher.
"We're seeing bears slowly return naturally return from the surrounding states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana to East Texas," said Nathan Garner, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife.
"Juvenile males are the first ones to strike out into new habitat," said Christopher Comer, a professor of Forest Wildlife Management at SFA. "I think it says two good things. One, that bears are healthy in those states, and that we do have habitat that support animals like the black bear."
In Red River County, conservationists are not only researching the return of the bears, but planning on how to deal with their growing population.
"We have a group that's trying to educate and develop some management plans, so when they do show up, we'll have some management plans ready to deal with them," said Comer.
Locals have already had encounters.
"We put out game camera's to get pictures of the deer and turkeys and we just happened to get a picture of a juvenile black bear," said Benton. "I got excited. My wife wasn't excited."
"The money we've been able to use in recent years to fund the research on the return of black bears to East Texas," said Garner.
Farmers and ranchers already have concerns about the bears return.
"I run cattle and I don't know if they're going to prey on your calves young calves, stuff like that, one of my concerns," said Charlie Segleski, a cattle owner.
Once eradicated by hunting and habitat loss, the bears are flourishing in border states, and ranging into Texas and opportunistic feeders.
"They're very inquisitive," said Comer. "They're always looking for an easy free meal that they can get."
"Don't leave your dog food or cat food out too much and try and clean up your garbage as much as you can," said Garner. "It's going to be more efficient in the long run if we prepare for them before we have problems with them."
The bears are here, we just need to learn how to live with them.
"They are slowly returning building their numbers and just be aware of that," said Garner.
Under Texas law, black bears are protected and it's illegal to hunt or shoot one.
Research into a possible habitat area for the bears in Red River County's Lennox Woods Preserve is underway. The effort is supported through a federally funded state wildlife grant program.