Living in Alaska, at some point you will see a bear, but even if you don’t you will never be far from one.
Did you know?
Alaska is the only state where all 3 North American bears are found! Alaska is home to black bears, brown bears and polar bears. Bears are very important to the ecosystem and to Alaska’s Communities. Inside this issue, you can learn about the life cycle of bears, bear behavior, and how to live responsibly in bear country.
Brown bears are brown right?
Not always! Brown bears, also known in Interior Alaska as grizzly bears, come in a wide variety of colors. Brown bears can range in color from light cream to almost black. On average, brown bears stand in at about six feet tall if they stand on their hind legs and can weigh about 800 pounds. That’s heavier than a piano! Their long, sharp claws usually measure about 3 inches long. Brown bears also have a hump of muscle between their shoulders. This, combined with large paws and long claws, gives brown bears the power to be excellent diggers.
Brown Bears and Black Bears Have A Lot in Common!
Both brown and black bears hibernate. This means that they spend the winter in dens made in hollow or fallen trees, rock cavities or dig dens in hill sides. During hibernation brown and black bears do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate but may wake up if disturbed. They obtain energy from the fat that built up from eating constantly all summer. Mothers give birth to their young while still in dens. Mother bears, or sows, give birth to two cubs on average, but can give birth to even four cubs. Baby bears can weigh as little as 1/2 a pound, thats about as much as a grapefruit!
Brown bears are large animals that enjoy having lots of personal space.
They wander about, looking for food in open fields, mountain highlands, forests and the cold tundra during spring and summer months. Adult brown bears tend to spend most of their time alone, but along streams filled with nutritious salmon, bears often fish in the company of other bears.
Did you know? Not all black bears are black!
Just like brown bears, black bears come in many different colors. They can range from white, brown or cinnamon, blueish white (glacier bear) to black! True white black bears are are very special and rarely seen. They are known to the local Tlingit (pronounced Klin-ket) people of Southeast Alaska as Spirit Bears. Unlike brown bears, black bears have longer and less rounded ears. Their faces are straighter from their forehead to their nose. Black bears are the smallest of Alaskan bears, at about five feet tall when standing and weigh on average about 350 pounds. Black bears have good eyesight and hearing, but are also equipped with an amazing sense of smell!
Brown bears and black bears are both omnivores.
They are opportunistic and will eat almost anything that is available to them. Their diet consists of insects, plants, berries, sedges, fish and sometimes mammals such as deer or moose. Bears are a key part of the ecosystem. When bears eat salmon, they often drag their catch out of the water to eat them. Salmon leftovers feed other animals and also put nutrients into the soil.
Black bears have sharply curved claws that can be up to one and a half inches long, allowing them to climb trees in the forests where they live. Black bears can also be found on beaches in early spring, in meadows in the summer, and by salmon streams when the fish are running.
Bears are Predictable!
In many ways, a bear’s behavior is much more predictable than you might think. A bear’s ears can be a good indicator of its emotions. Flattened ears can mean an angry or frightened bear, while ears that stand up can mean that the bear is curious and is trying to hear something better. Often times bears may false charge by slowly approaching and then lay its ears and lower its head and charge. It may then come to a screeching halt or avoid contact by going around the person or animal. And just like us, bears have personal space. You should never approach a bear, especially if they have food or cubs. Bears are defensive of their food and cubs, and may react when threatened. Always give bears plenty of space and remember to tell an adult if you see a bear.
Alaska is Bear Country!
Whether you live in a rural or urban area of Alaska you are in bear country. The privilege of living in a state with large predators comes with responsibilities. Whether it is keeping the garbage at your home secure, or maintaining a clean campsite, your behavior can influence bear behavior and keep them out of trouble. It is important to learn as much as you can about living and camping in bear country so that you, and the bears, can live safely together. Many bears live in Alaska and many people enjoy the outdoors, but surprisingly few people see bears and only a few of those are ever threatened by a bear. Bears are curious, intelligent, naturally-shy animals and prefer to avoid people. However, conflicts can arise when they are attracted to human food or garbage or when we surprise them while out on the trail. Respecting bears and learning proper behavior can help you avoid conflict—and help you know how to react if you do see a bear.
You surprised a bear, now what?
When you surprise a bear up close in the wilderness, stay calm. DON’T TURN AND RUN. Move closer to your friend. The bear may come closer, stand upright to get a better look, or circle around you to get your scent.
Wave your arms slowly and talk calmly to the bear. Help it figure out what you are. The bear may talk to you in its own language… popping its teeth, huffing and growling… telling you to go away.
Leave slowly, staying close to your friend… always facing the bear. If the bear follows you, stop, stand your ground, and call for help.
Biologists across Alaska are using innovative techniques to learn about bears. You can read more about these exciting projects in the ADF&G Fish and Wildlife News.
1. A Bear’s Eye View
It’s no secret that black bears and brown bears live and thrive in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. But where do they go and what do they do? Find out by going to //www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbearsanchorageurba= nbearsstorymap
2. The Nose Knows!
Karelian bear dogs are being used to sniff out polar bear dens in northern Alaska. The trained scent dogs use their keen sense of smell to detect faint bear smells coming from deep inside snow drifts. Read more at the ADF&G Fish and Wildlife news under May 2017: Detecting Grizzly and Polar Bear Dens: on Alaska’s North Slope
3. Traveling Bears
Have you ever wondered how far a bear travels during the summer, and where it dens in the winter? Read more at the ADF&G Fish and Wildlife news under October 2017: Melaspina Bears.
4. Nests or Dens?
When you think bear den, you probably don’t picture a nest. Black bear researchers on Prince of Wales Island discovered that bears can be nesters! Read more at the ADF&G Fish and Wildlife news under March 2017: Nesting Bears: Bear Dens on Prince of Wales Island