The American Black Bear Needs Our Help

By Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph

Do you know? Black bears are timid and easily frightened, reclusive, mostly solitary, and inherently non-confrontational animals. Despite what many think, they are not dangerous and unpredictable. They also do not snarl and show their teeth in aggressive displays (like dogs). And they are not ferociously protective of their cubs like the Grizzly bear is.

Indeed, the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is nothing like the grizzly and we need to stop demonizing this interesting creature and replace our ingrained fears with understanding. To date, black bears have lost 60% of their historical range in North America and you and I stand in the way, or not, of their ultimate survival.

I live in black bear country. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a stone’s throw from me and we have black bears, even mother bears with cubs, climbing up to our deck that is a towering 22-ft off the ground. The dry months have not been kind to the bears this year, leaving them hungry for berries that are no longer there. With hibernation closing in on mother bears, and their vulnerable cubs, the problem is becoming more and more critical for them by the day.

Consequently, they are migrating from remote forest outposts to mountaintop residences – even city scapes – looking for food wherever they can find it.


In a quest for reliable information about the black bear I have culled physical and behavioral information about Ursus americanus from black bear experts in North America, and have summarized that information at THE BEAR FACTS.

I hope you will visit my extensive links and become an advocate yourself for the black bear! If you are anything like me, you will have great fun in the process.

I have to tell you: I literally scoured the web for reliable black bear information. It is out there but it is scattered far and wide, and a lot of the information is repetitive. My effort was to tie the important information together in a quick reference format so that the information is easier to find, and also easier to remember. At THE BEAR FACTS pages you will get the big picture, and the important facts you need to know about the black bear.

Black bears are generally protected within the confines of our national park system but, even there, most of the information given us by parks personnel is necessarily (?) filtered through dense pages of legalese — the singular aim of which is to protect the parks from visitor liability.

The result is that factual bear information takes a backseat to *WARNINGS* and *CAUTIONS* about the perils of getting too close to bears.

This legalistic approach is misleading at best, and fear-mongering at worst. And it fosters the exact same fears about bears that all those demonizing magazine covers have done since the mid-1940’s. You’ll find numerous examples of such covers on THE BEAR FACTS pages, but this is one of them — note the snarling face and the frightening affect.

For more than two generations now Americans have been bombarded with unrealistic and frightening notions about bears by outdoor and hunting publications bent on triggering just such fears. As a result, we harbor needless fears and wild imaginations, but nothing much that is factual about the bear.


Tourists to National Parks in bear country partuclarly need to be more properly educated about bears and about how they can help conserve and protect these amazing forest dwellers. In the process people will learn to respect them for what they are — wild animals that can, indeed, be unpredictable at times.

Unfortunately, most park warnings and cautionary signs about bears don’t work. People tend to ignore them, rushing in as they so often do, with compact camera in hand, to photograph them. The black bear is the #1 reason most people visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They want to see them. Many even think it is cool to fed them. They want to get close to them.

Consequently, some bears in the parks become acclimated to humans, and they come in dangerously close to humans in their quest for food scraps. By dangerous I mean, DANGEROUS FOR THE BEARS!

The one thing we know for sure is that feeding bears kills bears.

When they forsake their remote forest havens for the human interface, bears loose their instinctual fear of humans and they become disoriented and disaffected, and no longer protected by their remote habitat. And if that weren’t enough, they also fall prey to killing automobiles and hunters and poachers, as well as to chemicals and pollutants, adversarial molds, spoiled food, and indigestible objects found in human garbage.

Humans are frail and they do dumb things out of ignorance and immaturity. My essay, Animals: why can’t we just do the right thing? speaks to a growing awareness that we are not an animal friendly society.

Don’t be lulled into thinking that you are I are in the majority, we are not.

So arm yourself with the facts and be sure that YOU, at least, do the right thing when it comes to bears. Your behavior will model for others how to best interact with them, which is to not interact with them at all.



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