Forest Feature: Bears
Perhaps no species is as associated National Forests as Smokey Bear, who’s served as the USDA Forest Service’s fire prevention “spokesbear” since 1944.
Smokey celebrates his birthday August 9th, and we’ve selected the bear as our August Forest Feature in his honor!
Bears are smart, curious, and almost always searching for food. They have an excellent memory, their eyes are as good as a human’s (and better at night), and their sense of smell is seven times better than that of a bloodhound.
Visitors to northwest forests must take precautions to make sure these wild animals stay wild!
There are three species of bear that are native to the United States – black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears. Black bears are found in Washington and Oregon. Grizzly bears are also native to northern Washington, though currently they are not found here in large numbers. There are no polar bears in the Pacific Northwest.
Be “Bear Aware” – store food, garbage, and scented items indoors, or use bear-resistant canisters or storage lockers when you are the outdoors, at least 50 feet from your campsite. Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee -certified bear canisters and campground-provided storage lockers meet the requirements for bear-resistant food and attractant item storage on National Forests.
Store food and any scented items that can attract bears, including toothpaste, soaps and lotions, insect repellent, sunscreen, anything that’s been used to store, cook or eat food (including dishes, utensils, bottles, cans and wrappers), bathroom trash, and petroleum products (including fuels). If your travels will take you into a National Park, check ahead to make sure your bear-resistant canister is approved for park use. (Remember how we said bears are smart, and remember what they learn? Some bears living in heavily-visited areas, such as National Parks, have figured out how to open many bear canisters).
If you encounter a bear:
- Do not run. Remain calm. If you are with a group of people, gather together and pick up small children.
- Face the bear so you can watch it’s behavior and back away slowly while talking calmly (this will help you identify yourself to the bear as a human)
- If the bear continues to approach, make yourself as large and imposing as possible – stretch your arms overhead and make as much noise as you can.
- If a black bear charges you, stand your ground and use bear spray to deter the attack.
Did you know?
- Black bears have been in North America for over 2.5 million years.
- Grizzly bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Today, there are approximately 1,200 to 1,400 grizzlies in four of the lower 48 states; Washington State, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
- Lewis and Clark were the first known Americans of European descent to report the sighting of grizzlies in modern times. Clark recorded in his journal that he saw a “white bear.” After talking to Native Americans about the animal, he learned the the grizzly bear is distinct from the American black bear.
- Both black bears and grizzly bears climb trees. Black bears, especially, are excellent climbers – some even make their dens in trees.
- A grizzly bear’s “hump” is all muscle, to help power their digging. They get their name from the whitish or gray “grizzled” hairs interspersed with their brown fur.
- Black bears aren’t always black! They can also be brown, blond, cinnamon, or rust colored.
- Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee: http://igbconline.org/
- USDA Forest Service “Bear Aware” page: https://www.fs.fed.us/visit/know-before-you-go/bears
- USDA Forest Service “Bear FAQs”: https://www.fs.fed.us/visit/know-before-you-go/bears/faqs
- NPS Bear Safety: https://www.nps.gov/noca/learn/nature/bear-safety.htm
- ODFW Bears in Oregon: https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/bear
- WSU Bear Center: https://bearcenter.wsu.edu/
- US Fish & Wildlife Service “All about the Grizzly Bear”: https://www.fws.gov/news/blog/index.cfm/2013/4/26/Get-to-Know-All-About–the-Grizzly-Bear
- Oregon Zoo site (Black Bear info): https://www.oregonzoo.org/discover/animals/american-black-bear
- Northwest Trek (Black Bear info): https://www.nwtrek.org/animals/bears/
- Woodland Park Zoo “Bear Cam”: https://www.zoo.org/webcams
- PBS’s Nature (Black Bear fact sheet): http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/bears-of-the-last-frontier-black-bear-fact-sheet/7012/
- National Geographic Kids (Brown Bear page): https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/brown-bear/#brown-bear-fish-stream.jpg
- National Geographic (Brown Bear page): https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/b/brown-bear/
- National Geographic Kids (Black Bear facts): https://www.natgeokids.com/au/discover/animals/general-animals/black-bear-facts/#!/register
- Conservation NW (Grizzly Bear restoration and recovery information): https://www.conservationnw.org/our-work/wildlife/north-cascades-grizzly/
- Western Wildlife Outreach Project: http://westernwildlife.org/
Forest Features highlight a new Pacific northwest species (or sometimes family, order or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.