Grizzly Bears

Grizzly Bear
Ursus arctos

Grizzly bears are mammals. An adult bear can measure 3-4 feet high at the shoulder and 8 feet tall standing upright. Adults weigh between 250 and 600 pounds. The color of their coat varies from blond to reddish to dark brown. They have a prominent shoulder hump, rounded ears, and claws that measure more than 2 inches in length.

Grizzly bears are omnivores. Their diet consists mostly of vegetation -- grasses, roots, nuts, and berries. They also feast on carrion (dead things), insects, fish, and small mammals and have been known to steal kills from other predators.

There have always been grizzly bears in the North Cascades Ecosystem. Although habitat loss most likely played a role in their decline, direct killing by trappers, miners, and bounty hunters during the 1800s removed most of the population in the North Cascades by 1860.

The estimated current population of grizzly bears within the entire North Cascades Ecosystem is a maximum of 30-50 bears. Of these, a maximum of 20-30 reside in British Columbia north of Highway 3; Canadian officials do not have an estimate for the number of bears between Highway 3 and the international border.

Many factors affect grizzly bear populations: they require a large territory or home range; there is increasingly little protected land available to them; they breed infrequently (once every 3 to 5 years); they have small litters averaging one to two cubs; they spend 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 years raising the cubs, and they are still hunted illegally by humans.

Home ranges vary from six to 2,000 square miles, depending on food availability, age, sex, and breeding status of the bear. Home ranges of related females often overlap, and a male's home range generally overlaps with those of several females.

Bears utilize the valleys as well as the ridge tops; they travel wherever they need to in order to find enough food, water, shelter, and space to survive.

During the cooler months of the year, grizzly bears go into a deep sleep, which many physiologists classify as a highly specialized hibernation. They will use an existing den or cave or will dig a new den. Bears enter their dens as early as the end of October and as late as December. They emerge from their dens between mid March and early April.

(Note: Black bears, which are relatively numerous in the North Cascades ecosystem, are relatives of grizzly bears. Black bear are generally smaller than grizzlies. They are to be respected and avoided just like the grizzly.)

Status in North Cascades ecosystem:
Grizzly bears are very rarely seen.


Federal: threatened
State: endangered

Additional Resources

Bear Sighting Observation Form - Have you seen a bear in the North Cascades? Download and complete a bear observation form to help park scientists monitor these species.

Bear Safety in the North Cascades

How to Identify Bears

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