Map_thumbnail_large_font

Ursus americanus 

Scope: Global
Language: English
Status_ne_offStatus_dd_offStatus_lc_onStatus_nt_offStatus_vu_offStatus_en_offStatus_cr_offStatus_ew_offStatus_ex_off

Translate page into:

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Ursidae

Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
Species Authority: Pallas, 1780
Common Name(s):
English American Black Bear
French Ours noir d'Amérique
Spanish Oso negro americano
Taxonomic Notes:

Although commonly known as the American black bear, coat color (even within a single litter) ranges from black to various shades of brown.  Black-colored bears predominate in the eastern and northern parts of the range, whereas the proportion of brown-colored individuals generally increases moving westward: brown-colored black bears predominate in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of the Rocky Mountains (Rounds 1987). Variation in color-phase occurs within individual states and provinces, related to habitat and weather (Beecham and Rohlman 1994).  A rare white (non-albino) color phase, associated with a single recessive gene, occurs in coastal British Columbia (Ritland et al. 2001).  A very rare “blue” (grey) color phase known as the Glacier bear occurs in northwestern British Columbia and along the coast of Alaska (McTaggart Cowan 1938, Obbard 1987).

Sixteen subspecies have been named (Hall 1981). Some of these gained special protections, particularly in eastern U.S. where recognized subspecies are morphologically distinguishable from cranial morphology (Kennedy et al. 2002). However, these subspecies designations do not correspond with recently documented genetic population clusters (Puckett et al. 2015).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-03-18
Assessor(s): Beecham, J., Doan-Crider, D., Garshelis, D., Obbard, M. & Scheick, B.
Reviewer(s): van Manen, F.
Justification:

This species is widespread and occupies a large portion of its historical range. The global population is estimated at more than twice that of all other species of bears combined. Within the United States, populations have been expanding numerically and geographically. Legal hunting is the primary cause of mortality and is well controlled by state and provincial management agencies in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. Hunting is banned in Mexico. Population-level threats exist in only a few isolated places, and relate mainly to habitat fragmentation and conflicts between bears and people. Many management agencies are more concerned with controlling population growth of this species through legal harvest than promoting further growth and geographic expansion (which could increase human–bear conflicts).

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

American black bears range across three countries: 12 provinces and territories of Canada (all except Prince Edward Island, where they were once abundant, but the last known one shot in 1927; Sobey 2007); 41 U.S. states (with sightings but undefined ranges in 5 other states); and 6 states of northern Mexico (Scheick and McCown 2014) (with sightings in 4 other Mexican states and a recent record of a dead bear farther south in the state of Hidalgo; Rojas-Martínez and Juárez-Casillas 2013). The species never existed outside of these three countries, although the southern historic limit is not well known. The present range falls within 69°29´ to 23°14´ N (with the incidental record in Hidalgo at 21°05’30” N) and 52°49´ to 164°10´W.

In western parts of their range, American black bears broadly overlap and compete with grizzly/brown bears (Ursus arctos) (Mattson et al. 2005, Mowat et al. 2013). Black bears occupy several islands off the coast of Alaska and British Columbia, but do not coexist with brown bears on any islands.  Northward, black bears narrowly overlap with polar bears (Ursus maritimus) along the Québec coast of Ungava peninsula, the Ontario and Québec coasts of James Bay, and along the Ontario and Manitoba coasts of Hudson Bay.  Climate change seems to have enabled black bears to range farther north. For example, there have been recent sightings of black bears near Salluit, the second northernmost Inuit community in Québec (62°12'N) (S. Côté, Laval University, Québec City, personal communication, 2015).  Along the western shore of Hudson Bay in Nunavut, local hunters from the community of Arviat (61°5'N) have observed black bears about 50 km west of the village.  These sightings have occurred since 2005, were of single individuals, and are considered to be rare (D. Lee, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, personal communication, 2014) but are farther north than similarly rare excursions noted by Jonkel and Miller (1970).

Loss of habitat and unregulated hunting/persecution resulted in extirpation of black bears across large portions of their range by the early 1900s.  Present occupied range covers 10.5 million km2, representing 65–75% of the historical range, depending on whether Midwestern prairies are counted as historical range (Scheick and McCown 2014).  Black bears were documented along some wooded river courses through the Great Plains (e.g., Lewis and Clark expedition, 1804–1806; Laliberte and Ripple 2003), but were likely scarce in the grasslands. More of the original distribution remains in Canada (>95%; 6.9 million km2) than the U.S. (45–60%; 3.5 million km2). However, recolonization from growing neighboring populations, in some cases assisted by translocations, have occurred across the U.S., including several previously extirpated states: Rhode Island and Connecticut in the Northeast (Cardoza 1976, Scheick and McCown 2014), Kentucky in the Southeast (Unger et al. 2013), Ohio, Oklahoma and Missouri in the Midwest (Bales et al. 2005, Scheick and McCown 2014, Wilton et al. 2014; although genetic studies suggest that Missouri bears may not have been completely extirpated ― Faries et al. 2013, Puckett et al. 2014), and Texas (Onorato and Hellgren 2001) and Nevada in the Southwest (including areas that were erroneously thought to be outside historic range; Lackey et al. 2013). The current distribution in Mexico (at least 99,000 km2) is believed to have been drastically reduced from an unknown historical extent due to deforestation, hunting, and incidental killing from predator poisoning (Delfín-Alfonso et al. 2012); however, these bears are also now expanding and reoccupying portions of their former range, and possibly new areas because of artificial water and food sources.

Countries occurrence:
Native:
Canada; Mexico; United States
Additional data:
Upper elevation limit (metres):3500
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:

Heavily persecuted since European settlement of North America, compounded by loss of forest cover, American black bear populations rapidly declined, and probably reached a nadir in the early 1900s. Greater state and provincial protection for bears enabled populations to slowly recover.  More rapid growth occurred with increasing protective measures since the late 1980s (Williamson 2002).  By 1999, 60% of U.S. and Canadian states and provinces reported increasing populations, and other jurisdictions appeared to be either stable or fluctuating with no clear trend (Garshelis and Hristienko 2006).  Many of these trend assessments, though, were not derived from serial estimates of population size.

Based on sums of estimates for individual states, the total U.S. population, excluding Alaska, is estimated at somewhat greater than 300,000.  No reliable estimate exists for numbers of black bears in Alaska, although authorities presume there to be 100,000–200,000 animals.  Similarly, large populations in most parts of Canada are not reliably known, but countrywide estimates center around 450,000 (principally in British Columbia, Ontario, and Québec). Thus, the total number of black bears in North America is likely within the range 850,000–950,000.  No population estimates exist for the country of Mexico, although some areas within Mexico have high and increasing black bear densities (SEMARNAP 1999, Doan-Crider 2003).

Many population size or density estimates have been derived using rigorous mark–recapture approaches. Densities have been reported as high as 155 independent black bears/100 km2 (on an Alaskan island with legal hunting and abundant natural foods; Peacock et al. 2011) and 214 independent bears/100 km2 (coastal North Carolina with abundant agricultural crops consumed by bears; van Manen et al. 2012) to as low as 5 independent bears/100 km2 (interior Alaska; Miller et al. 1997; and pine forest with little food or cover in coastal South Carolina; Drewry et al. 2012).  Some mark–recapture population estimates have been conducted over large geographic areas, encompassing whole states or provinces or numerous study sites across the state or province (e.g., Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ontario: Garshelis and Visser 1997, Garshelis and Noyce 2006, Dreher et al. 2007, Belant et al. 2011, Howe et al. 2013, Lackey et al. 2013).

Population trend information is also commonly derived from mark–recapture or from population reconstruction or modelling using ages of legally-harvested bears (Fieberg et al. 2010).  Population size and trend information are routinely used by management agencies to regulate harvest pressure and inform trends in human–bear conflicts.  Detailed demographic studies have revealed that survival and recruitment of American black bears is closely tied to year-to-year variation in natural food abundance (Costello et al. 2003, Reynolds-Hogland et al. 2007, Obbard and Howe 2008, McCall et al. 2013).

Once portrayed as having one of the lowest rates of reproduction of any land mammal in North America, American black bears in some parts of the range, especially in the East and Midwest, are now known to have higher reproductive rates than previously reported (Hristienko and McDonald 2007).  With controls on human-caused mortality, populations can increase rapidly, and spread through immigration. A black bear population in interior Alaska that was almost entirely removed to reduce predation on moose (Alces alces) completely recovered in 4–6 years by immigration (of both sexes) from the surrounding landscape (Keech et al. 2014).

Current Population Trend:Increasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals:850000-950000
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

American black bears are primarily a species of temperate and boreal forests, but they also range into subtropical areas of Florida and Mexico as well as into the subarctic. They live at elevations ranging from sea level to 3,500 m, and inhabit areas as diverse as dry Mexican deserts and scrub forests, Louisiana swamps, Alaskan rainforests, and Labrador tundra (where they occupy the typical niche of the grizzly bear; Veitch and Harrington 1996).  Between these extremes they occupy assorted deciduous and coniferous forest types, each providing a different array of foods.

The American black bear is a generalist, opportunist omnivore. Depending on location and season, they consume herbaceous vegetation, roots, buds, numerous kinds of fleshy fruits, nuts, insects in life stages from egg to adult, and vertebrates from fish to mammals, including their own kills as well as carrion.  Moreover, they readily consume various human-related foods, from garbage and birdseed to a variety of agricultural products from cropfields and orchards, including corn, oats, soybeans, sunflowers, wheat, and apples, and brood and honey in apiaries.  Black bear predation upon livestock has also been documented in some areas. The ability of black bears to adjust their diet to the circumstances has enabled them to persist not only in a diversity of habitat types, but also in highly fragmented forested areas in proximity to humans (Pelton 2003, Benson and Chamberlain 2006, Ditmer et al. 2015).

A key habitat feature in many areas is a source of fall mast that enables black bears to increase their fat reserves for winter hibernation.  Historically, American chestnuts (Castanea dentata) likely were a key fall food for bears (and other wildlife) in eastern North America, but after a blight eliminated this food source in the early and mid-1900s, oak (Quercus spp.) acorns and beechnuts (Fagus grandifolia) have become the principal fall foods for bears throughout this region (Vaughan 2002).  However, oaks are now declining in eastern North America due to forestry practices, insects, disease, and over-abundance of deer (McShea et al. 2007), and a disease accidentally introduced in the late 1800s is now spreading widely across beech forests in northeastern U.S. (Morin et al. 2007). In parts of the range where oaks and beech are absent or uncommon, hazelnuts (Corylus spp.), whitebark pine nuts (Pinus albicaulis), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) berries, madrone (Arbutus xalapensis), manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.), huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.), buffaloberries (Shepherdia canadensis), wild cherries (Prunus sp.), mountain ash (Sorbus spp.), or other fruits, or sometimes meat, are the fall dietary mainstays.  In the southwestern U.S. and in Mexico, succulents such as yucca (Yucca spp.) and cactus fruits also play important roles in providing food, especially during drought (Doan-Crider 2003).  American black bears may migrate considerable distances (up to 200 km) to find more abundant food sources, especially in late summer and fall, prior to hibernation (Garshelis and Pelton 1981, Beck 1991, Hellgren et al. 2005, Noyce and Garshelis 2011).

American black bears hibernate for up to 7 months in the northern portions of their range (Bertram and Vivion 2002, Chaulk et al. 2005), but for considerably shorter periods in more southerly areas (Wooding and Hardisky 1992, Waller et al. 2012).  In some southern and low-elevation areas, where food is available year-round, some bears may remain active during winter (Hellgren and Vaughan 1987, Graber 1990, Doan-Crider and Hellgren 1996, Hightower et al. 2002).  However, all parturient females den to give birth to cubs, typically in January–February.  American black bears use a wide variety of den structures: existing caves or tree cavities, underground chambers that they excavate, root masses, brush piles, or even above-ground nests. Adequate denning sites or structures are rarely thought to be limiting, except in habitats that flood (because young cubs may drown or die of exposure; White et al. 2001), or where bears preferentially choose certain types of dens, such as hollow trees, that are being reduced through logging (Davis et al. 2012).

Mating typically occurs in May–July, but may be extended in southern latitudes (Garshelis and Hellgren 1994, Spady et al. 2007).  Females can have as many as 3 estrous cycles (B. Durrant, personal communication, 2014). Implantation is delayed, and active gestation is only 2 months.  Females give birth beginning at age 3–10 years: their rate of growth and maturity varies with food availability, and hence tends to be especially delayed in northern boreal forests.  They can produce cubs every other year, but in places with less food, this interval may be extended to 3 years.  Average litter size is approximately 2.5 cubs in eastern (ranging up to 5 or rarely 6 cubs) versus <2.0 cubs in western North America (Alt 1989, Garshelis 1994, Bridges et al. 2011).  Reproductive rate in this species is highest among the ursids, although there is a clear dichotomy between Eastern (including Midwestern) and Western populations.

Systems:Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:

A looming concern, but not a widespread problem in North America, is the poaching of bears for their paws and gall bladders, which may be sold commercially. Those products, particularly bile from gall bladders, are highly valued by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Several U.S. states and Canadian provinces allow the sale of bear parts taken legally by hunters, either within that jurisdiction or transported into that jurisdiction from elsewhere (Williamson 2002). An argument can be made that this creates opportunities for poachers to employ an illicit pathway into the legal, commercial trade. However, illegal trade appears to be very limited.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Throughout most of its range, this species is not threatened. Legal sport hunting is well controlled by state and provincial agencies to fit management objectives, and most states and provinces that harvest bears have a management plan (Hristienko and McDonald 2007). American black bears are harvested as a game species in all 12 Canadian provinces and territories where they exist and in 31 U.S. states. Since the early 2000s, 6 states with increasing bear populations opened bear hunting seasons ― Florida, New Jersey and Maryland, after 21-, 33- and 51-year closures, respectively, and Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Nevada for the first time in their management history. The sport harvest for this species in Canada and the U.S. totals 40,000–50,000 annually. Currently, black bears are not legally hunted in Mexico, but some conditional permits are allowed for depredation cases.

A few small, isolated populations of American black bears may be threatened with extirpation, simply due to small population size, effects of fluctuating food (and in some cases water) resources, or direct human-caused mortality. A very small (<20 black bears), isolated population in western Florida may persist only if tenuous travel corridors to other, more robust populations are made safer for bears (Larkin et al. 2004). An isolated population on a peninsula in Ontario was judged to have a high probability of extirpation unless all non-natural mortality was eliminated (Howe et al. 2007). A black bear population on a large island in Québec was extirpated apparently from introduced deer excessively browsing berry-producing shrubs, and thus eliminating an essential food supply for the resident bears (Côté 2005).

Most small, isolated populations are in the southern U.S. In a particularly dramatic case, a severe drought in 2000 prompted a number of bears from Big Bend National Park, an isolated population in southwestern Texas, to travel to Chihuahua and Coahuila, Mexico, apparently in search of better fall mast — most never returned (they either remained in Mexico, died naturally when crossing the desert, or were killed by people). As a result, the entire Big Bend population was reduced to 5–7 bears, including only 2 adult females (Hellgren et al. 2005). However, since that time, this population has rebounded to higher numbers than were there before the exodus in 2000, likely supplemented by bears immigrating from Mexico. Mexico served as the original source of the recolonization of bears in southwest Texas after they had been eradicated during the 1940s (Onorato and Hellgren 2001). Movements by bears across the seemingly harsh, xeric environment of southwestern U.S. and Mexico once appeared to be anomalous (Doan-Crider and Hellgren 1996, Onorato et al. 2004), but it is now recognized as an integral part of the ecology of bears in this region.  In 2011, northern Mexico experienced record drought and wildfires that not only caused high direct bear mortality, but also prompted immigration of bears of both sexes into unburned, previously unoccupied habitat in both Mexico and Texas.

Increased public awareness of bears and protection from human-caused mortality are likely enabling bears to successfully traverse areas of Mexico where they once would have been persecuted.  Additionally, reports of bears using deer feeders on game ranches in northern Mexico and south Texas have become commonplace, and may be playing a role in promoting bear movements and population growth.  Conversely, recently constructed barriers and human activity spurred by illegal human immigration and drug-related violence could thwart the natural interchange of bears across the U.S.–Mexican border (Atwood et al. 2011).

Conflicts with humans have been a threat to black bears since European colonization of North America (Cardoza 1976). Human–bear conflict stems from humans and bears competing for space and bears being attracted to food items produced or managed by people. Due to their generalist food habits, black bears are readily attracted to many human sources of foods, such as garbage, agricultural crops, apiaries, and sometimes livestock, especially when their preferred wild foods are scarce. People kill bears in retribution, to prevent property damage, or in fear for their safety.  Encounters between black bears and people have increased as people have encroached upon bear habitat, and as bear populations have increased and expanded into areas occupied by people.  Most states and provinces with a significant population of black bears report common or increasing conflicts between bears and people (Hristienko and McDonald 2007, Spencer et al. 2007).  Recent studies suggest that variation in abundance of natural foods tends to be a key driver of human–bear conflict levels (Howe et al. 2010, Obbard et al. 2014). Urban areas provide attractive sources of anthropogenic food for bears during periods of natural food shortages, but also are a source of increased mortality (Ryan et al. 2007, Baruch-Mordo et al. 2014). Urban areas are expected to increase across American black bear range in the future (Bierwagen et al. 2010), which, coupled with the potential frequent natural food shortages in arid bear habitats as a result of global climate change, may threaten small or isolated bear populations.

Increasing density of roads, with increasing traffic volume, is another growing threat to American black bears.  Without immigration from an adjacent national forest, bear numbers in a rural residential community in north-central Florida would have declined as a result of increased adult female mortality from vehicle collisions (Hostetler et al. 2007).  A stretch of highway in North Carolina that was upgraded from 2-lane to 4-lane, with increased speed limits and a new alignment, caused increased bear mortalities that negatively affected the nearby population, even though underpasses were made available (van Manen et al. 2012). Poor food years tend to spur wide-scale movements of black bears, resulting in increased mortalities from vehicular collisions (Wooding and Maddrey 1994).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

n the U.S. and Canada, black bears are managed by individual states and provinces, so although an IUCN conservation action plan exists for this species (Pelton et al. 1999), each state and province sets their own goals and methods for achieving those goals.  As a whole, this has worked well to re-establish robust populations of black bears across their range. Several key factors aided the rapid rebound of American black bears since the 1980s: (1) improved habitat, (2) large dispersal distances in high-quality habitat (Moore et al. 2014), (3) relatively high reproductive rates, (4) reduced human-caused mortality, and (5) better information about the biology and ecology of bears combined with better population monitoring techniques (Miller 1990).

Much forested habitat, essential for black bears, was cleared indiscriminately for agriculture during the 1700s–mid-1900s, but has since returned in many parts of the U.S. Most notably, northeastern U.S. (New England) has been naturally reforested back to near its pre-colonial extent (~400 years ago; Hall et al. 2002), although tree composition is different (fewer hard mast-producing trees as food for bears; Thompson et al. 2013).  Some states and provinces also manage habitat to benefit bears (e.g., space, foods, travelways, den sites; Pelton et al. 1999).

Through the 1800s and early 1900s in some areas, black bears were extensively hunted for meat, skins, and grease (i.e., market hunting; Smith et al. 1991, Unger et al. 2013) or hunted or poisoned with the intent of eliminating or severely reducing their numbers to reduce damage to crops and livestock (Cardoza 1976, Raybourne 1987).  Governments often paid a bounty to encourage the killing of black bears.  Protection and recovery occurred state-by-state and province-by-province during 1902–1983 as laws were changed and bears gained protection as a big game species (Miller 1990). Thereafter, the number and sex of bears killed were more closely controlled through hunting regulations and restrictions on numbers of hunters.  By the 1980s, under the belief that black bears reproduced slowly and were easily over-harvested, most management agencies took a conservative approach to black bear hunting to enable populations to increase (Hristienko and McDonald 2007). Moreover, an infrastructure of wildlife management agency personnel and hunters policed illegal take.

Wildlife management agencies have also taken an increasingly active role in reducing the number of bears killed in conflict situations through stricter laws against shooting and feeding (in some jurisdictions, feeding bears is illegal), and educational programs aimed at coexisting with bears by reducing attractants, promoting public tolerance, and recognizing that black bears are typically not a threat to human safety (Treves et al. 2009, Baruch-Mordo et al. 2014).

In Mexico all hunting seasons for American black bears have been closed since 1985, and the species is considered nationally endangered. Numerous conservation initiatives established by large private ranches and land cooperatives in northern Mexico have created large blocks of suitable habitat (e.g., oak-dominated forests) with protection from poaching (Doan-Crider 2003). Changing public attitudes toward bears in Mexico have also contributed to the recovery and expansion of the species (SEMARNAP 1999, Onorato and Hellgren 2001). Although bear populations are clearly increasing, population estimation and monitoring efforts are lacking because funding (normally associated with hunting fees in the U.S. and Canada) is not available. Hunting bans will likely not be lifted without better documentation of population size and trend.

In the southeastern U.S., where black bears now occupy 27–37% of their historic range (depending on whether primary range or total bear range are counted as occupied range; Scheick and McCown 2014), population recovery was aided by the establishment of national parks and other sanctuaries in the Appalachian Mountains and the Coastal Plain (Pelton and van Manen 1997). These large areas protect the habitat (especially mast-producing trees) and restrict hunter access. Beginning in the early 1970s, additional areas were established where bear hunting was prohibited, thus linking protected areas to other forested lands, including many private lands. the resulting conglomerates serve as dedicated or defacto sanctuaries, especially for adult females, that are a source for bears expanding into other areas (Beringer et al. 1998, Unger et al. 2013).

In some areas, populations of American black bears have either been augmented or reintroduced after former extirpation by transplanting bears from elsewhere (Clark et al. 2002).  Reintroductions into Arkansas during the 1960s were highly successful (Smith et al. 1991).  Licensed hunters in this state now harvest several hundred bears annually, and bears from Arkansas have expanded into neighboring states. Further reintroductions within Arkansas have been conducted more recently (Wear et al. 2005). A successful reintroduction augmented a newly-spawning population in Kentucky (Unger et al. 2013). Augmentation of several populations in Louisiana during the mid-1960s likely contributed to population recovery there.

The Louisiana black bear (U. a. luteolus), a recognized subspecies of American black bear, was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1992 as a result of severe loss and fragmentation of its habitat combined with unsustainable human-caused mortality (Bowker and Jacobson 1995). At the time of the listing, and since then, the validity and integrity of this subspecies has been debated (Pelton 1991, Kennedy et al. 2002, Csiki et al. 2003, Puckett et al. 2015). Under this ruling, all bears within the historic range of the Louisiana black bear, from east Texas to southern Mississippi, have been protected. Much of the bottomland hardwood forest that the Louisiana black bear historically inhabited had been converted to agriculture. Since 1992, remnant bottomland hardwoods have been protected, and some marginal farmland converted to hardwood trees.  Moreover, a new population of bears within Louisiana was established by translocating bears from other Louisiana populations (Benson and Chamberlain 2007) in order to create a stepping-stone between two separated populations; this enabled bears to travel between them (Laufenberg and Clark 2014). One irony is that the stepping-stone successfully linked a population that was believed to be native Louisiana black bears with a population that had previously been established by translocating U. a. americanus bears from Minnesota (1964–1967). The Minnesota bears had clearly adapted to the very different habitat and weather conditions in Louisiana, as they have been established there for three generations and their numbers have been increasing. However, if the luteolus subspecies has any merit, the successful establishment of a conservation corridor reduced the purity of that genetic stock.

The conservation efforts in Louisiana have been further enhanced through public information and education. This management program is organized by a broad coalition of state and federal agencies, conservation groups, forestry and agricultural industries, and private landowners. As a result, bears have been noticeably increasing in numbers and distribution in all three range states, although a breeding population does not yet exist in east Texas.  Large, contiguous forested habitat capable of sustaining a population of black bears exists within the historical range of the subspecies in east Texas (Kaminski et al. 2013); however, surveys of local people indicate concern over potential conflicts with an established bear population in the area (Morzillo et al. 2010). In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the Louisiana black bear, based largely on a rigorous study (Laufenberg and Clark 2014) that showed that all of the population criteria for recovery had been attained and adequate safeguards against future threats were in place (Fuller 2015).

Another typically-accepted subspecies of black bear (U. a. floridanus) was listed as threatened by the state of Florida in 1974, although legal hunting continued in some population strongholds until 1994. Habitat degradation, and bears being killed on highways and in conflicts with people are the primary threats to these bears. The fragmented habitat contributes to the high vehicle kills and human interactions. A public petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Florida black bear as a federally threatened species was denied in 1992. A black bear management plan, adopted in 1993, directed the state management agency to conserve habitat and reduce human-caused bear mortalities. These efforts, particularly habitat conservation measures and changes in human attitudes toward bears, supported a steady population increase (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2012). Florida black bears have been expanding into areas of unoccupied habitat as regrowth of understory and forests improve habitat quality, even as development reduces habitat quantity.  In 2010 the status of the Florida black bear was re-evaluated using IUCN redlisting criteria, and after a thorough, peer-reviewed biological assessment and development of a management plan, the species was removed from the state’s threatened species list in 2012 (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2012). A hunt was initiated in 2015.

In British Columbia much conservation attention has been directed toward the Kermode subspecies (U. a. kermodei). This animal is commonly referred to as the “spirit bear” because it possesses a gene that when homozygous is manifested as white pelage (Ritland et al. 2001).  White-phased animals have long been protected from hunting.  A large system of protected areas was established in 2006 (Great Bear Rainforest Agreement) to ban or severely restrict logging within >200,000 ha of coastal temperate rainforest inhabited by this subspecies of black bear, as well as by brown bears.  Additionally, the spirit bear was selected as the official provincial mammal of British Columbia.

Since 1992 all American black bears have been listed in Appendix II of CITES, under the similarity of appearance provision (Article II, para 2b).  This listing stipulates that documentation of legal harvest is necessary for the import and export of body parts in order to prevent these from being confused as parts from illegally obtained bears.  This listing was not designed to protect American black bears, but rather other species of threatened bears, particularly the Asiatic black bear (U. thibetanus), whose parts might otherwise be sold under the guise of being from American black bear.


Citation: Beecham, J., Doan-Crider, D., Garshelis, D., Obbard, M. & Scheick, B. 2016. Ursus americanus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41687A45034604. . Downloaded on 08 December 2016.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided