There are more North American black bears in the world than all other bears on earth combined with an estimated overall population of one-million individuals. They are found across the North American continent where they inhabit 41 of the 50 American states and 11 of the 12 Canadian provinces. In Washington, there are around 20,000 black bears and another 20,000 live in Idaho. People are much more likely to encounter a black bear than a grizzly bear in the lower 48 states with resident bears.
The ancestors of today’s black bear came across the Bering Land Bridge from Asia more than 3 million years ago. By 500,000 years ago, the modern form of the black bear was a part of the North American landscape.
Black bears have been able to thrive on the same continent as grizzly bears in part by using different habitats. Being smaller, black bears require less food to survive and therefore can live in areas where resources are less abundant.
Black bears are extremely intelligent and adaptable, and frequently take advantage of easy food sources such as garbage cans, pet food that has been left out, and bird feeders. They have been known to open car doors, gate latches and coolers to access food, and once they have become accustomed to finding food in a particular home or neighborhood, they will continue to return to that source.