CHADWICK, Mo. — Bear experts and advocates are working to educate Missouri residents about black bears as the number of the species increases in the state.

The Missouri Department of Conservation began an effort seven years ago to count the black bear population after the animals that had been reintroduced in Arkansas slowly moved north into the state. Last week, the effort began focusing on trapping female bears, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.

Jeff Beringer, a resources scientist with the conservation department, last week trapped a black bear near Chadwick in the Mark Twain National Forest. Although it was a male, the animal was one of about 300 black bears that are believed to be living in Missouri, most of them in the southern regions.

Beringer is working with Missouri Black Bear Foundation, a group founded in Columbia, to raise awareness about the species, as the likelihood increases that residents might encounter one of the bears, which can weigh up to 700 pounds.

Jim Karpowicz, the foundation's outreach coordinator, said the education is important because "Mid-Missouri has no knowledge of dealing with a large predator." The foundation had its first meeting last month. It plans to conduct educational programs, research projects and public outreach. Bass Pro Shops is contributing to the effort.

"In 15 years, we will hopefully all have gotten used to bears," Karpowicz said. "There may eventually be a black bear hunting season."

Karpowicz said black bear sightings should immediately be reported to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Berigner cautioned that people should not feed the bears or make any attempt to have contact because the animals should not become friendly with humans.