Celebration of the Black Bear
Historically the American black bear kept to the forested areas and away from the plains and high-arctic tundra where grizzly bears roamed and hunted black bears. Black bears do best in forests with holes in their canopy, allowing sunlight to illuminate the forest floor. The sunlight allows grasses and other vegetation to grow. Since black bears are mostly vegetarian, these types of forest habitats are their preferred habitat.
A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear
When European settlers cleared swaths of eastern forests for agriculture, it improved habitat for the American black bear by opening up the canopy and allowing more sunlight to the forest floor. Crops and livestock became a rich food source for the black bears, and soon they were hunted, trapped, and killed out of fear. It was the beginning of the end for black bears in much of the eastern U.S.
Black bears experience high mortality in areas where forests are interspersed with farmland and areas where black bears have access to the easy food sources found in suburban settings. Bird feeders, pet food, garbage cans that are not bear safe, and compost piles attract black bears. The result is death to the bears by humans. The mantra “a fed bear is a dead bear” is sadly a reality.
Black bears face continuing threats in North America. Excessive hunting, nuisance killing from crop and livestock loss, poaching to supply alternative medicine markets in Asia and the United States, habitat loss, and animal control euthanizations from human-bear conflicts reduce the population and range of the American black bear in the U.S.
The black bear is always a pleasant surprise for me to observe in nature. They are fun mileposts in my life’s memories. Jumping into my Dad’s arms as a 6-year-old encountering a bear at night in the Sierra Nevada to encountering them in the mountains of New Mexico are great experiences I remember.