Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Physical Description

          Black bears can be intimidating since they stand twice as high as the largest domesticated dog. Black bear males have been noted at being between 50-400 kg. The American black bear has thick fur, most commonly black. However, there are different variations of pelage (fur) color. Depending on where the bear is in B.C. it could be blue gray, white, brown, even cinnamon color. The black bear has a straight face, prominant ears, a large hind rump that is the highest point on the backside of the animal. This is different from a grizzly where the face is dished, they have less prominent ears, and the highest point is their shoulder hump. Sometimes there can be a white patch on the chest and the end of the muzzle is lighter by the nose. Below is a diagram between black bear and grizzly bear features.

Habitat and Range

          Black bears are present everywhere in British Columbia. Black bears are seen in the back country and in the cities. They are an animal that lives in forested areas and avoids large grassland and desert areas. However, black bears use natural and man-made openings like roadsides and cut blocks for forage. For up to six months of the year, the bears will be in torpor (hibernation). For this, the bear will find or make a suitable den, depending on the conditions of where they are in the province. Many dens are made from fallen logs or the root system of a large tree. Trees help to keep bears dry and warm in rainy areas like Vancouver Island. Having a stable den is important because the bear cubs are born during this period of hibernation.

Diet

          Black bears are considered a carnivore; however, they are an omnivore and 9/10ths of their diet involves plant matter. Much of the plant matter is berries. The black bear is very opportunistic and will feed on carrion, and take animals that are readily accessible like newborn fawns, other ungulates, small rodents, and fish. Given their ability to rely on different food sources and being opportunistic in nature, black bears are easily attracted to human food and garbage in the same way they are carrion. It attracts them and is easy to take. The fact that bears can easily become attached to our trash as a food source means that there are many conflict issues that arise.

Human Interactions

     Human Uses

          Black bears have been used and valued by humans for a very long time. First Nations would use the fat from bears before they went into hibernation to add into pemmican and paints. Pioneers would use the bear fat for making soaps, candles, and even a waterproofing agent for boots. The bear pelts have also been valued and hunted by people as a food source, warm clothing items, rugs, and other furniture items. Bear parts like the gall bladder are used for medicinal purposes. Black bears contribute to nature tourism industries because they are a large charismatic creature, people often go on sightseeing tours to see these animals, appreciate them, and photograph them.

     Negative interactions:

           In British Columbia has one of the world’s largest black bear populations with approximately 120-150 thousand black bears. With that many black bears in B.C. coupled with their wide habitat range and the urban expansions in our cities, it is very reasonable to see how human conflicts with black bears can exist. Since our living situations overlap, bears travel through our urban areas, it is when the bears start to linger in our neighborhoods and farms that conflict issues arise. Bears have a very keen sense of smell that is far superior to our own, allowing them to smell our foods. Once a bear gets into human food sources they may become habituated. A habituated animal will allow themselves to fear humans less and be closer in proximity to us, which increases the chances of us being hurt by them or visa-versa. From 2009-2013 in B.C., there were 19,901 incidences involving bears and garbage. These conflicts can be avoided by storing garbage in bear-proof containers, not leaving trash out in our yards or on the street. The objective is to keep the bears flowing through the landscape, other ways we can do this is by only using bird feeders when bears are hibernating, take them in at night, feed pets inside, clean outside freezers, barbecues etc.

For more information on reducing black bear conflicts at home and in the outdoors follow these links to wild safe BC and the provincial bear smart program.

https://wildsafebc.com/black-bear/ 

http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals-ecosystems/wildlife/human-wildlife-conflict/staying-safe-around-wildlife/bears/bear-smart

The following link contains information on what to do if you see or experience a human-wildlife conflict.

http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/plants-animals-ecosystems/wildlife/human-wildlife-conflict/staying-safe-around-wildlife/bear

Citations:

Hatler DF, Nagorsen DW, Beal AM. 2008. Carnivores of British Columbia. British Columbia. Royal BC Museum. 407 p.

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