Black bears inhabit the U.S. from the lowland swamps of coastal North Carolina to the tall mountains of northern California. While many Americans never spot a secretive black bear, more hunters and homeowners are seeing more bears in some areas of America. Some of these persons say they are seeing too many bears.
Black bear populations are increasing in many regions of the U.S. The proof is growing. South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources recently issued guidelines for dealing with problem bears. Hunters there killed nearly 100 bears during the 2009 hunting season, and cars killed more than 20 in the same period. The state is considering expanding hunting areas and seasons to counter problem bears and rising citizen complaints. Down in Florida, bear numbers are on the upswing and the state is working on a bear management plan. Bears are also being noted in Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana and other areas where the bruins have been missing—or questionable—for decades. Louisiana brought in black bears from Minnesota and released them during the 1960s. Texas has seen bear numbers climb and now has a black bear management plan that runs through 2015.
Black bears have also been attacking humans from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to Washington State. Some of those attacks have been deadly. Black bears are simply more numerous and widespread than other bear species, so the chances of being attacked by a black bear are higher. Black bears are also more frequently encountered around homes because they come close in search of food, such as the seeds or suet in bird feeders. Yet, grizzly attacks seem to always receive the national media attention.
If hunters seek bears and bear hunting tags, they should visit states and regions where bears are most bountiful. Much of the preferred bear habitat and hunting areas in the U.S. are along the spines of the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. The coastal northwest regions and Alaska also have many black bears. In many states, bear hunting licenses are sold over the counter. Montana is one state where you will have to take—and pass—a test to distinguish between black bears and grizzlies before you can hunt.
The work of anti-hunting groups who opposed the use of bait and/or hounds to hunt bears in past years can also be blamed—or thanked—for increased bear populations and increased threats to humans.
The Bear (Bare) Facts:
These facts can help you better understand secretive black bears:
Mature black bears generally weigh from 300 to 500 pounds, but a wild bear killed in Craven County, N.C. tipped the scales at more than 800 pounds. Black bears held in captivity have attained body weights of more than 1,100 pounds.
Black bears (Ursus americanus) can also be other colors, such as blond or brown/cinnamon. Albino black bears have been reported. Many black bears have a distinct white blaze or crest on their chest.
Black bears can, and do, climb trees and will often spend much of the day resting in trees. Black bears can run at approximately 30 miles-per-hour and are good swimmers.
Bears mark their territory by rubbing against trees and reaching high to claw tree trunks with their sharp claws.
Black bear cubs are commonly born in midwinter months, weigh about one pound, are approximately eight inches long and are pink and hairless. They have claws at this time. A bear can live nearly 20 years in the wild.
Though black bears consume a diet that's 75% vegetation, they will also eat garbage, meat, fish, nuts, honey, carrion and livestock. Bears consume a lot of food during fall months to build body fat reserves for winter hibernation.
Most black bear attacks on humans occur in national parks and around campgrounds.
Approximately 30 states permit black bear hunting. Black bear meat holds about 8% fat and 20% protein.
In addition to those taken by hunters, black bears are often killed by wolves.