By: Glynn Harris
Two years ago when I visited the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge in Madison Parish for the first time, I hoped to see a bear. It didn’t happen but I saw enough and triggered the interest in my wife sufficiently that she wanted to go see this remarkable place.
A year later, it all came together when we were invited by my friend and regular Tensas visitor, Dr. Terry Jones, for the trip over to tour the refuge which touches parts of three parishes, Madison, Tensas and Franklin.
This special part of our state has a fascinating history. Founded in 1980 to preserve one of the largest privately owned tracts of bottomland hardwoods remaining in the Mississippi River delta, the refuge encompasses some 80,000 acres of pure swampy bottomland hardwood majesty. This type of habitat once covered 25 million acres, the majority of which over the years was cleared to make way for farmland, the rich soils being the major attraction.
Today, these same rich soils support some 400 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. The largest population of the threatened Louisiana black bears live here. Tantalizing too is the fact that the last verified sighting of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, now believed to be extinct, was in 1940 on the area that now makes up the Tensas National Wildlife Refuge.
With that bit of history laid out, now back to this past Monday when we drove over to see what Tensas would show us. She didn’t disappoint.
First, Jones led us to the check station where mandatory forms were completed so refuge managers can keep count of the number of visitors. Then we headed down Mill Road where Jones and I had seen alligators on our previous visit. While not as many as we had seen on our
last visit, they were there; we watched five gators paddling easily over the waters of a borrow pit with the largest being maybe 10 feet long.
After photographing the alligators, we reversed course, drove back to the check station where Jones suggested I lead out on a slow drive down Quebec Road, telling us to keep an eye out for “critters.”
“We have sometimes seen bears along this drive,” Jones said as we motored away.
A mile or so down the road, something caught my eye. There was a bear in the roadside ditch maybe 10 feet from the car. She ascended the shallow bank and stopped next to a large tree. My wife and watched spellbound as two tiny bear cubs followed her up the bank. Our cameras and those of Jones, who had pulled to a stop behind me, were busy photographing the bear and her little ones.
They remained in the same spot as we drove off down the road talking about how fortunate we were to see such a sight. Turning around half an hour later and returning to the spot, lo and behold, the trio of bears was still there.
We got to watch one of the little guys climb a few yards up the tree for a better look, with our cameras snapping away and disrupting their afternoon of doing whatever they were doing when we spotted them.
Finally, mama bear had had enough of all the attention. She glared at us sitting in our vehicles 20 steps away from her, then rushed forward a few feet making a “huff, huff” sound.
We got the message. We had gotten to witness what we came to see and drove away leaving the bears to themselves but left with memories we won’t soon forget.