FAQs

General Grizzly Bear Biology

  1. What is the life history of a grizzly bear?
  2. What do grizzly bears eat? How much do they eat?
  3. Do grizzly bears kill big game animals?
  4. Do grizzly bears do anything besides eat?
  5. What months do grizzly bears spend in the den? What does a den look like? How are grizzlies able to survive long periods in the den?
  6. How large an area does an individual grizzly bear require?
  7. Does a bear keep other bears out of its range?
  8. How big are grizzly bears? Are they different from the brown and kodiak bears of Alaska?
  9. What is the difference between a grizzly and a black bear?
  10. Can grizzly bears climb trees?
  11. How fast can a grizzly run?
  12. What do grizzlies use their long front claws for?

North Cascades Grizzly Bear Biology

  1. What is the history of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades?
  2. How do we know there are grizzly bears in the North Cascades?
  3. How much do bears move back and forth across the USA/Canada border?

The Endangered Species Act & Recovery in the North Cascades

  1. Why recover grizzly bears in the North Cascades?
  2. What is a recovery plan? What is a recovered population? Delisting? Uplisting? Downlisting?
  3. Does the recovery area include sufficient habitat to recover the bear?
  4. What number of grizzlies makes a recovered population?
  5. How long will it take to achieve a healthy grizzly bear population in the North Cascades?
  6. What effects will grizzly bear recovery have on other wildlife in the North Cascades?
  7. Will grizzly bear recovery affect salmon and steelhead populations?

Grizzly Bear Management

  1. What management is necessary to have logging and grizzly bears?
  2. How would grizzly bear predation on livestock be handled? Will livestock growers be compensated for losses to grizzly bear predation?
  3. May ranchers and farmers kill grizzlies that inflict damage on their stock or property?

Augmentation

  1. What is the difference between “augmentation” and “re-introduction” as those words are used in discussions of grizzly bear recovery?
  2. Have grizzly bears been added to the North Cascades in the past?
  3. Will grizzly bears from other places be moved to the North Cascades as part of the recovery effort?
  4. Would problem bears be moved into the North Cascades?
  5. How will the public participate in deciding if or how grizzly bears would be moved into the North Cascades from other places?

Human Safety

  1. How much danger do grizzly bears pose to humans?
  2. How can people in grizzly bear country avoid attracting bears?
  3. What is a BRFC?
  4. How will garbage disposal be addressed in the grizzly bear recovery process?

General Grizzly Bear Biology

1. What is the life history of a grizzly bear?

Grizzly bears usually have 1 to 4 cubs (average of 2), which are born in the den in late January. At birth their eyes are closed, they have very little hair, and they weigh less than a pound. Grizzlies have cubs every 3 years on average, and cubs accompany their mother until she has another litter. Grizzly bear mothers are highly protective of their young and will risk death to protect them. Female grizzlies usually begin to breed at 5 to 6 years of age. Male bears do not participate in caring for the young. The average life span of a grizzly is 15 to 20 years. The oldest wild grizzly bear ever captured in North America was a female in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana, which was 34 years old.

2. What do grizzly bears eat? How much do they eat?

Grizzlies are omnivores, which means that like humans, they eat both plants and animals. They are also opportunists, meaning they take advantage of whatever is available. Most of their diet is from vegetable materials such as berries, roots, and grasses. They also scavenge meat from winter-killed animals, dig for rodents, and eat termites, ants, grubs and other insects. If the opportunity arises they can become adept at fishing and hunting. Because they must live off stored fat for 6 months of the year, they eat large quantities during the time they forage. An adult male may consume the caloric equivalent of 10 huckleberry pies per day during the height of the berry season.

3. Do grizzly bears kill big game animals?

Yes. Grizzlies sometimes prey on elk calves and deer fawns. They generally are not very proficient at killing adults of those species. In some areas, such as Yellowstone, big game can be an important food source. However, carrion (often winter kill) often makes up the largest portion of big game consumed by bears.

4. What do grizzly bears enjoy?

Eating occupies much of a grizzly bear’s time during the spring, summer and fall, but they also engage in a wide range of other activities. Grizzly bears are extremely intelligent animals and each individual has a personality of its own. Adult bears are sometimes observed on the highest peaks. Entire family groups of mothers and cubs have been seen sliding down steep snow slopes on their rumps and then climbing back up to do it again. They also enjoy water, and on hot days can be seen splashing and diving in pools and streams. They will play with each other for hours, both as cubs and when older, and will sometimes amuse themselves by playing and wrestling with logs and sticks.

5. What months do grizzly bears spend in the den? What does a den look like? How are grizzlies able to survive long periods in the den?

Grizzly bears generally den in October or November and emerge in mid-April. They often enter their dens during a snowstorm, but they may also den in the autumn before the onset of winter weather if they are very fat. They usually dig a den in a hillside or under the roots of a tree or use a natural cave. They’ve also been known to simply crawl into thick brush and let the snow cover them. They usually den at higher elevations where there is ample snow for insulation. A bear rarely uses the same den year after year. Dens dug in a hillside usually collapse by mid-summer.

During winter when bears are in the den, their heart and breathing rates and body temperatures are reduced. In this way they conserve energy so that they are able to survive on the fat they have stored during the summer. Bears can gain 50 to 100+ pounds during the 6 months they are active. Bears do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate while they are in the den. Water is produced as their fat is metabolized, and this provides their body with necessary liquid. Incredibly, they often lose less than 2% of their muscle mass during winter sleep. The functioning of a bear’s kidneys is not well understood and is being studied to provide potential benefits for human kidney research. Bears may come out of their dens for a day or two during warm periods and sit in the sun at their den entrances. They will also awaken if disturbed.

6. How large an area does an individual grizzly bear require?

That depends upon how rich the habitat is in bear foods. Grizzly bears are not territorial. They do not stake out and defend a well-defined area but follow food availability. A food source that is rich in early spring often fizzles out by late spring, causing bears to move to other food sources. As a result, home ranges generally change from year to year. Most bears move through an area of several miles during a 24-hour period, but daily movements may vary widely by season, food availability, age and sex of the bear, security cover, and level of disturbance.

The average home range size throughout North America for an adult female grizzly bear is about 70 square miles. Adult males have much larger home ranges, often 300-500 square miles. Male home ranges are generally larger because males travel over a broader area to find females. Female home ranges are usually smaller because the limited mobility of cubs confines them to an area just large enough to supply food, water, and security. Research is needed to learn about grizzly bear home ranges and habitat use in the North Cascades.

7. Does a bear keep other bears out of its range?

No. Grizzly bears are not territorial. Home ranges of bears overlap. Each bear does have a certain “personal space” that it will not let another bear invade, and will defend a limited food source such as a carcass.

8. How big are grizzly bears? Are they different from the brown and kodiak bears of Alaska?

The average spring weight of an adult male bear in the Rockies is 350 to 400 pounds; a female weighs about 250 pounds. A grizzly may gain 50-100+ pounds during the summer and fall. Brown and Kodiak bears are the same species as our grizzly bears, but they are much larger as a result of their richer food source and the dominance of larger bears in breeding.

9. What is the difference between a grizzly and a black bear?

The black bear is a different, smaller species of bear, and it is more common in forested habitats than the grizzly. Black bears are found in 32 U.S. states, much of Canada and parts of Mexico. In Montana black bears and grizzly bears live in similar habitats, but the black bear is less commonly found above timberline. Black bears and grizzly bears both range in color from very light blond to cinnamon-like to black, therefore color is not a good way to tell the two species apart. Young grizzlies are no larger than black bears, so size is not a good indicator. Diagnostic features of a grizzly are long, curved front claws, a concave-shaped nose in profile, and a muscular hump at the shoulders.

10. Can grizzly bears climb trees?

Yes, but they rarely do. Cubs climb trees well but this ability decreases as the bear grows larger and older. How well an adult bear can climb is usually determined by the size of the tree and arrangement of branches.

11. How fast can a grizzly run?

Though grizzlies may look slow and clumsy, they can run as fast as a horse for short distances and are quite sure-footed. They have been clocked at 30 to 35 miles per hour which is much faster than the world record for humans in the 100 yard dash.

12. What do grizzlies use their long front claws for?

They use their claws primarily to dig for rodents, roots and bulbs and to tear apart rotten logs and stumps for insects. The claws are also useful when it is time to dig a winter den.

More on grizzly bear biology and behavior

North Cascades Grizzly Bear Biology

1. What is the history of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades?

The historical record clearly shows that grizzly bears have long been present in the North Cascades. The earliest evidence is found in religious ceremonies and folklore of several Cascade Mountain Native American tribes. Between 1827 and 1859 Hudson’s Bay Company trapping records show 3,788 grizzly hides shipped from North Cascades area trading posts.

Some of the grizzly bears killed in the North Cascades have been preserved in various museums across the U.S. The hide and skull of a grizzly bear killed during the survey of the U.S./Canada border in 1859 was sent to the U.S. National Museum in Washington, D.C. The skull is still in the museum collection.

Another grizzly bear taken from the Chelan area in 1913 was used by C. Hart Merriam in 1916 as the type specimen for his taxonomic description of Pacific Northwest grizzly bears. In 1952, a grizzly bear was killed just east of the Okanogan River, near Molson; this specimen is in the Conner Museum at Washington State University. In 1967, a grizzly bear was killed in what is now the North Cascades National Park.

From the early 1900s to present agencies have collected anecdotal information indicating the presence of grizzly bears throughout the Cascade Mountains. In the early 1900’s, miners, sheepherders, and ranchers killed grizzly bears indiscriminately as vermin. This was followed by a period of predator control by government hunters and wardens, who trapped and shot grizzly bears throughout the Cascades. Members of the public have reported seeing grizzly bears in the Cascades from the 1800s to the present.

More on grizzly bear history

2. How do we know there are grizzly bears in the North Cascades?

In 1983, a Washington Department of Game researcher collected and classified grizzly bear observations from the North Cascades. For the U.S. portion of the North Cascades, more than 20 reports between 1960 and 1983 were rated as highly reliable. One of the reports described the killing of a grizzly bear on Fisher Creek south of Ross Lake in 1967. Biologists of the Washington Department of Game inspected this bear and recorded a detailed description of it.

The North Cascades Grizzly Bear Technical Team includes biologists who are trained in evaluating the validity of bear sightings. They evaluate sightings by conducting interviews and field surveys. To date, records show 20 confirmed observations of grizzly bears in the North Cascades between 1964 and 2004. These reports included observations by wildlife biologists, a grizzly bear food cache, and several different grizzly bear tracks. Tracks were either photographed or cast in plaster. The photographs and plaster casts are maintained by the Washington Department of Wildlife and National Park Service. Another 86 reports of grizzly bears in the North Cascades from 1964 to 2004 were rated as highly reliable. The last sighting to be verified occurred in 1996 in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. All of this information is available for public review.

More on grizzly bear observations

3. How much do bears move back and forth across the USA/Canada border?

Bears do not recognize political boundaries, so it is likely that some North Cascades grizzlies regularly cross and re-cross the international boundary. Some may live primarily south of the border, while others live north of it. Grizzly bears observed in the southern area of the North Cascades Ecosystem would have home ranges that do not include portions of Canada. Research is needed to learn more about North Cascades grizzly bear distribution and movement patterns.

The Endangered Species Act & Recovery in the North Cascades

1. Why recover grizzly bears in the North Cascades?

The Endangered Species Act requires recovery of threatened or endangered plants and animals. Grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species in 1975. A national grizzly bear recovery plan was prepared in 1982. It identified four ecosystems that had grizzly bears and sufficient habitat to support a viable bear population and two that needed to be evaluated. The North Cascades was one of those two. Between 1986 and 1991 biologists evaluated the habitat quantity and quality and the status of grizzly bears in the North Cascades. Their report and an independent evaluation of the information concluded that bears were present and that the quality and quantity of habitat in the North Cascades could support a viable grizzly bear population. Based on that information, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the decision to designate the North Cascades as a grizzly bear recovery area. Washington also contains another grizzly bear recovery area, the Selkirk Recovery Area, in the northeastern portion of the state.

2. What is a recovery plan? What is a recovered population? Delisting? Uplisting? Downlisting?

When a species is listed as endangered or threatened, a recovery plan is written by a team of biologists. The plan outlines actions that should be taken to increase the population to the point where it is no longer threatened and no longer needs federal protection. The implementation of the actions in a recovery plan is done through management documents such as forest plans, following an extensive public planning processes. Each step provides for public comment through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

“Uplisting” occurs when the status of the population is changed from threatened to endangered and “Downlisting” occurs when it is changed from endangered to threatened. This status review is conducted according to procedures specified in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The North Cascades grizzly bear population is currently warranted for endangered status (should be uplisted), but that action is currently precluded by higher listing priorities (such as species that are in need of protection, but have none under the ESA). When the population increases to the point that it is no longer considered threatened, it is considered “recovered”. At this point it is “delisted”, or removed from the threatened species list.

Recent articles in the press have reported that grizzly bears are to be “delisted” in the contiguous states. The only grizzly bear population currently under consideration for delisting, however, is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

3. Does the recovery area include sufficient habitat to recover the bear?

The North Cascades Grizzly Bear Ecosystem Evaluation included a study to determine if ample plant and animal diversity and abundance existed in the North Cascades to support grizzly bears. The study found that most plant species used by bears in other ecosystems occur in the North Cascades, as well as some unique plant species that may add to the richness of the bears’ menu. It concluded that the 10,000 square mile area in the U.S. was adequate to sustain a population of 200 to 400 grizzly bears.

4. What number of grizzlies makes a recovered population?

A recovered, or self-sustaining grizzly bear population must be genetically viable; able to withstand natural and human-caused mortality and catastrophic disasters; and be well distributed throughout the ecosystem. The determination of what constitutes a recovered population in the North Cascades cannot be determined at this time because of the lack of information for the ecosystem. Additional research will be needed to determine the population objective for the North Cascades ecosystem. Although a viable grizzly bear population number cannot be exactly specified at this time, scientists currently estimate that it may be comprised of between 200 to 400 bears.

A recovery plan for the North Cascades was finalized and approved in 1997. The plan may be updated periodically and these updates provide opportunities to determine or revise population objectives based on new information.

5. How long will it take to achieve a healthy grizzly bear population in the North Cascades?

It will take many decades before the North Cascades has a healthy grizzly bear population. Grizzly bears are slow to increase in numbers because of their reproductive biology – they are the second slowest reproducing land animal in North America, second only to the musk ox. Females are usually 5 to 6 years old when they have their first litter and then have an average of 2 cubs about every 3 years. Not all of these cubs survive to maturity. A typical female grizzly bear will have 5 cubs that survive to adulthood in her life which may be about 20 to 25 years. Growth of the North Cascades grizzly bear population, under the best conditions, is expected to be very slow.

6. What effects will grizzly bear recovery have on other wildlife in the North Cascades?

The wildlife of the North Cascades evolved and coexisted with grizzly bears and is unlikely to be adversely affected by grizzly bear recovery. Land management practices to recover grizzly bears generally benefit other wildlife.

7. Will grizzly bear recovery affect salmon and steelhead populations?

Grizzly bears, black bears, salmon and steelhead all evolved together and an increasing grizzly bear population is not likely to have a significant effect on salmon and steelhead populations in the ecosystem. The activities of individual bears may affect fish populations in some creeks and streams in the short term, but are unlikely to cause any long-term fish population declines. Some research suggests that ecosystems benefit from the nutrient cycling that results from bears transferring fish from the water to the land during feeding, and in scat.

Grizzly Bear Management

1. What management is necessary to have logging and grizzly bears?

While timber harvest activity may temporarily displace bears, it does not necessarily cause long-term detrimental effects if road access is limited after the activity is complete. Logging can sometimes improve bear habitat by providing openings favorable to plants that the bears use for food. This increased food value lasts as long as the bear foods produced by removal of the tree canopy persist. Grizzly bears may not like to get far from hiding cover and may not use large openings if open roads are nearby. Post- logging treatments like broadcast burning that preserve the soil layers and the roots of berry-producing shrubs can be beneficial to production of grizzly foods.

Effective road closures are one of the best ways to maintain both grizzly bears and timber harvest. Closing and replanting roads when timber harvest is finished and closing nearby established roads while new roads are open can provide bears with the undisturbed habitat they need. Road management is used to benefit other species of wildlife as well. Managing the seasonal time of entry is also a useful tool to allow both timber harvest and bear access to important habitats at critical times.

2. How would grizzly bear predation on livestock be handled? Will livestock growers be compensated for losses to grizzly bear predation?

Livestock growers will be encouraged to follow practices that will not attract grizzly bears.

When a report of a suspected grizzly bear predation is received, a federal agent will investigate to document and verify the kill and determine, if possible, the cause.

In the event of grizzly bear predation where the bear is judged to be a nuisance, (food conditioned or habitually preying on livestock) it will be removed or destroyed in accordance with a nuisance bear plan that is currently in place for the North Cascades.

In other ecosystems, private organizations have set up funds to compensate ranchers and farmers for losses from grizzly bears. This has been discussed for the North Cascades but no firm obligations have been made.

3. May ranchers and farmers kill grizzlies that inflict damage on their stock or property?

No. Protection of human life is the only condition where individuals may kill a grizzly bear. Federal agents will respond to all reports of grizzly bear damage to livestock or property and appropriate action will be taken.

Tips for coexisting with grizzlies near your home or ranch

Augmentation

1. What is the difference between “augmentation” and “re-introduction” as those words are used in discussions of grizzly bear recovery?

Augmentation refers to adding animals to an existing grizzly bear population. For example, grizzly bear population augmentation has occurred in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana. Re-introduction refers to relocating grizzly bears into an area previously inhabited, but no longer occupied, by grizzly bears.

2. Have grizzly bears been added to the North Cascades in the past?

No. This would not happen without an extensive process that involves an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However there is a plan being considered by British Columbia authorities to augment the population in that Province.

3. Will grizzly bears from other places be moved to the North Cascades as part of the recovery effort?

That decision has not been made.

Many biologists believe that the only way to facilitate recovery and reduce the risk of extinction is through an augmentation program. They estimate there are currently very few grizzly bears in the North Cascades, perhaps as few as 5 to 20 animals in the U.S. portion. Small populations such as this are highly vulnerable to extinction. Any augmentation proposal would require preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), in which a variety of alternative steps would be evaluated. This would include a significant effort to gather public input and review.

4. Would problem bears be moved into the North Cascades?

No. No bears with a history of conflict with humans would be moved into the North Cascades.

5. How will the public participate in deciding if or how grizzly bears would be moved into the North Cascades from other places?

A decision on whether or how augmentation might be done could only be made after completion of an analysis prescribed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requirements include public input and consideration of issues raised by the public.

Human Safety

1. How much danger do grizzly bears pose to humans?

The potential for having an adverse encounter with a grizzly bear is extremely low. Even when they occur, most bear encounters do not lead to human injury. Adverse encounters can usually be avoided through awareness of conditions that may cause an encounter. Keeping a clean camp, not approaching wildlife too closely, and avoiding situations that might unknowingly surprise a bear will greatly decrease the risk of having an unwanted bear encounter, or causing someone else to have one. Proper sanitation practices and familiarity with bear behavior are likely to be the best safeguards against unwanted encounters.

Grizzly bear management focuses on minimizing or eliminating conditions that could attract bears to humans, such as improper garbage disposal or sanitation, and promoting increased awareness among people of how best to reduce the possibility of an adverse bear encounter. Proper management minimizes the potential for conflicts.

2. How can people in grizzly bear country avoid attracting bears?

There are many specific things people can do to avoid attracting bears, either grizzly or black. Good sanitation is key to many of these. Odors attract bears to potential food items; their curiosity can even attract them to items that are not food, such as petroleum products and toiletries. Carefully controlling odors associated with food and products which humans use helps prevent bears from being habituated to being near people. This means that we need to store our food, garbage, cooking gear, and toiletries where bears cannot get them. Once conditioned to human sources of food or garbage, a bear is dangerous. It may approach humans closely and come into camps or near homes to search for food.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has published pamphlets and posters describing how to hike and camp safely in bear country.

3. What is a Bear Resistant Food Container?

Bear Resistant Food Containers (BRFCs) are containers for camping, boating, and other recreational activities. They are designed to keep bears out of your food and other odorous attractants (toothpaste, utensils etc.). Bears are so successful as species because they are opportunistic omnivores which means they are able to locate many different food types over large areas in different seasons. The problem is that this also leads them to human food when it is not stored properly – both in the front country around human property and campgrounds, and also in the backcountry when people don’t hang their food and garbage appropriately out of the reach of inquisitive bears. Once a bear becomes human food-conditioned it is a tough habit to break. Like a dog begging at the dinner table – one treat and it will be back for more. Human food is not only delicious, but high in calories, and bears learn that quickly. Unfortunately, this usually leads to a bear becoming more inclined to come into areas where there are humans, where they often end up being killed. “A fed bear is a dead bear” as the old adage goes. The BRFCs are designed to keep a bear from accessing your food and other smelly items when in bear country. They are made from a very tough polymer and are virtually indestructible. For more information: www.counterassault.com

4. How will garbage disposal be addressed in the grizzly bear recovery process?

Making garbage unavailable to bears is important in avoiding the conditioning of bears to foods and places associated with people. Years of experience with limiting bears’ access to garbage in other areas will help land managers and property owners in the North Cascades take practical steps ranging from installing bear-resistant dumpsters to trucking garbage away from areas frequented by bears.

More on grizzly bear safety