WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

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Photo credit: Ray Rafiti

Black bear (Ursus americanus) | ESA status: none

Black bear

Black bears are North America’s most familiar and common bears, but conflicts with humans are on the rise as we encroach on their habitat. We’re working to reduce state-approved hunting programs of black bears in select states in the American West.

Black bear facts

Black bears, the third largest carnivores in North America (behind grizzly and polar bears), survive mainly on plant materials. Black bears prefer forest habitat for forage and movement. They disperse seeds and nutrients and foster biological diversity by creating small-scale disturbances that open up the forest canopy.

What are the threats to black bears?

Black bear habitat is disappearing due to unprecedented rates of suburban and urban growth. Because of habitat loss, bears increasingly find themselves in ex-urban areas, which can result in conflicts with humans and high levels of bear mortality. With development comes roads, and roads spider-webbing into once pristine habitat make it easier for hunters and poachers to kill bears and lead to vehicle-bear collisions. Climate change may especially affect hibernating species such as black bears because changing temperatures impact food sources and biological responses.

In arid climates such as Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, bears reproduce slowly and are vulnerable to over-exploitation. A Colorado study showed that female bears do not breed until they are almost five years of age, and the birth interval comes every two years, depending on sufficient food availability. Stochastic events such as food failures, droughts, or late frosts can decrease forage and increase human-bear conflicts leading to bear mortalities. Winter can add further stresses. Because black bears are not resilient due to their slow reproduction rates, they are seriously affected by habitat loss, negative encounters with humans, and overkill.

Guardians will continue to fight for black bears in states like New Mexico, which recently increased the black bear hunting quota across the state.