Black Bear

black bear and cubs
A black bear mother and her two cubs cross the East Fork Quinault River

Bridgett Jamison

Black bearUrsus americanus

The black bear is a common inhabitant of Olympic National Park, and North America, in general. They are smaller and darker than the grizzly bear and the brown bear. Females typically weigh between 100 and 400 lbs, while males weigh between 250 and 600 lbs.

Black bears are the most common species of North American bear, found in a majority of the states and in most of the Canadian provinces as well. They range from lowlands all the way up to subalpine regions of the mountains, inhabiting a variety of different ecosystems such as riparian areas, coastal lands, ridgetops, and forests, old and new.

These creatures have an incredibly varied diet. They often feed on tree sapwood, young tree bark, and insect mounds until berries come in season. Bears can be spotted frequently in the early fall raiding the huckleberry bushes on mountain slopes. During various salmon runs in both spring and fall, bears will feed in shallow waters where they have a relatively easy time catching salmon en route to spawn, or salmon carcasses that have done so already.

Do NOT approach bears! Though most are scared of humans, mothers with young are easily threatened. Always remain at a safe distance. It is important to read about how to properly secure your food and other scented items that attract bears and other creatures while camping in the park.

Role in the Ecosystem:
As omnivores, bears eat a little bit of everything, which helps the forest stay healthy and clean. As bears graze for nuts and seeds throughout the late summer and fall, the undigested seeds are deposited in their droppings, or scat, which then fertilizes them to grow into the giants that visitors come from around the world to see. Even as these giant trees fall, bears are there to dig through the logs in search of insects inside, helping to make a new forest floor. These new berry bushes and leafy greens attract elk and deer, as well. As these animals die off, the bears will help to eat the carcasses, providing more nutrients to the soil and building the web of Olympic life!

Fun Fact:
As the winds pick up and the snow starts to fall, black bears will start getting ready for winter hibernation. During this several month long nap, bears' breathing will slow to one breath every 45 seconds, and even their heartbeat lowers to 8 to 21 beats per minute!

Last updated: September 6, 2020

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