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24. Black Bear---Manitoba, Saskatchewan

map showing the wide range of black bears in Canada, the Rockie and Appalachian Mountains, and several other places in the United States and MexicoFor various reasons many believe that black bears are an endangered species. Not true. In fact, black bear numbers have increased rather dramatically in the past 20 years. In West Virginia the black bear has made a dramatic comeback, probably for two reasons. First, the general public has come to understand that we do not need to shoot every bear seen as they are not a major threat to our safety or to domestic animals. The old saying, "the only good bear is a dead bear" has fortunately passed. The second reason for the comeback is because the wildlife agency delayed the hunting season in December to a time when most females are already in hibernation (females tend to hibernate before males). This change allowed more females to survive the hunting season and thus, give birth to cubs (which takes place in mid-January). The impact of these changes have been dramatic. In the 1970’s, the West Virginia legal hunting harvest was less than 100 per year, but via sound management, hunter harvest now averages 2,500 per year. Although black bears have a reputation for being meat eaters, probably 70 percent of their diet is vegetarian. Grasses, berries, buds, roots, and insects are primary items eaten, but raiding farmers corn and oats fields sometimes get them in trouble.

The key to a healthy bear population is the allowance of hunting that keeps bear numbers below levels where they negatively interact with people, and still allows populations to be healthy. Unfortunately in some states animal rights groups have used political pressure to stop bear hunting, and bear-human encounters have escalated, leading to the killing of "problem" bears. Loss of hunting means no revenues to manage bears, and the need to remove problem bears. No winners here and the bear suffers.


Samuel with bearThe bear mount was a bear harvested in Manitoba. Hanging with this bear are hides from two black bears. The one on the right is a chocolate-phase colored black bear, while the one on the left is the normal black color.(for comparison below is a photo of both color phases taken by bowhunters in Manitoba).

Both animals whose hides hang here in the Westvaco Natural Resource Center came from the same area in Saskatchewan. In the eastern United States almost all bears are black in color. In the Rocky Mountains of the west, most black bears are brown or chocolate in color. Some scientists have speculated that the coloration has something to do with heat reflection during the hot summer. However, this would not explain the fact that in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan as many as 40% of all bears are brown or chocolate in color.

Samuel with chocolate bearOne further note of interest. If you spread the bottom portion of the chocolate robe apart (I know, we ask you to not touch the mounts, but in this case, please do), you can see the true chocolate color of the bear. This hide has been here since 2004 and the sun has bleached it to a blond color. That doesn’t happen on live bears, but it did here. The bear’s original chocolate color is visible where the sun has not bleached the hide.
two bears