American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
American Black Bear are the most common and widely distributed bear in North America. Biologists estimate approximately 20,000 Black Bears currently reside in Washington state. Despite their name, they can be a variety of colors from blond, cinnamon brown, to black. Black Bears are omnivores but are primarily vegetarian with a small amount of their food being fish, insects, and carrion. They are opportunistic feeders especially in areas around humans. Black Bears are not true hibernators but fall into a deep sleep, called torpor, during the winter. If the weather is nice, they might even wake and move around.
Black Bear importance to ecosystems includes their effect on insect populations and the dispersal of seeds. Black Bears exhibit a high level of intelligence, curiosity, and exploratory behaviors.
WDFW receives an average of 500 Black Bear complaints annually and 95% of these calls are the result of human irresponsibility: people feeding Bears, purposefully or inadvertently, not maintaining garbage and waste properly, and improper storage of food while camping. As biologists know, a “fed Bear is a dead Bear” either from having to be euthanized or relocated. Relocation is often more cruel than euthanasia.
Black Bear Range
Black Bears are common throughout Washington State except in the interior Columbia Basin. They are also common in suburban areas and may be seen in yards. In general, Black Bears prefer forest cover, but they do occasionally use relatively open country, such as clearcuts and other open habitat.
Black Bear populations are stable in Washington State but habitat encroachment by humans is a concern. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) classifies Ursus americanus as Least Concern for conservation in its current North American range with a population trend of Increasing (www.iucnredlist.org) .
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT IN WASHINGTON STATE
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) manages wildlife on a population level, whereas NARN is oriented more towards an individual nonhuman animal’s right to choose their own life and right to their own bodily autonomy. Population level management strives to maintain healthy, reproducing populations, but is not necessarily used as a tool to save individuals.
By law, WDFW must consider a diverse range of stakeholder interests because wildlife “belongs” to all citizens of Washington State. Wildlife “use” by humans includes hunting, economic, education, scientific study, photography, safety, and cultural uses by Indigenous communities.
Black Bears are classified by the Fish and Wildlife Commission as “game”nonhuman animals, and therefore may be hunted with a valid big game license and tag where permitted. Bear hunters must successfully complete the WDFW Bear identification test if hunting in certain game management units. Anecdotal evidence from Washington State wildlife rehabilitators’ annual reports suggests that spring Bear hunts orphans Bear cubs.
NARN would like to see management principles that prioritize consideration of the individual animal in conservation management decisions.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Make your voice heard!
Tell WDFW what you would like to see changed or strengthened regarding Black Bear
management policies. Major commenting happens at WDFW Commission meetings, instructions found here.
Remember, don’t forget why you care about Black Bears! You may express your feelings and opinions, however, opinions must be based on facts and spoken respectfully. Facts are, for example, scientifically based population trend data, or numbers of verified human/Bear conflict encounters per year in Washington State. Your feelings on Bear hunting may also be expressed. Feelings and values are not fact-based but are still valid!
The Fish and Wildlife Commission is the body that classifies which nonhuman animal species will be considered by humans as “game animals.” “Game animals” are nonhuman wild animals that may be hunted and killed by humans. Some other actions you may take to engage with the Commission in-between public commenting periods are:
- Contact the Commission directly. Before submitting your writings, be aware that some websites exaggerate claims and opinions disguised as facts. Go to the source of research and make sure you can adequately point to your source information while conversing with WDFW or with its Commission.
- Become educated on WDFW Bear management and education.
- Let NARN help you with your research. What do you want to find out?
- Attempt to formulate and write down what changes you would like to see implemented for Bear management at WDFW. When presenting to the Commission, try to suggest alternatives to the actions you do not like.
- You may also comment directly to WDFW on their public media Stay Connected sites.
As always, be kind, be factual, know your sources, and express your values in a productive and respectful way.
Coming to the table realizing the common goal is the most effective way to affect change. The common goal in this case is healthy Bears and their populations, even if it is for different reasons.
November 2022 UPDATE: WE DID IT! Spring bear hunting has been stopped in Washington State, permanently!
Stop Spring Bear Hunting in Washington State
Your help is needed to end Washington’s cruel and unnecessary spring bear hunts! Yes, our state is one of the few that hunts bears when they are first emerging from hibernation. Spring hunts are in addition to our long regular summer-fall bear hunting season.
Bears in our state are hunted every month in which they are not hibernating except July. Hunters are allowed to kill females with cubs and bear cubs. No records are kept on the number of bear cubs that are orphaned and left to die. Most bear hunting is trophy hunting; often only the pelt is used. Hunters are allowed to kill two bears each year across our state even though bear density and mortality rates vary widely in different areas. WA State’s management of our black bears is unacceptable.
Please join this effort by sending comments and speaking up. We will need the help of hundreds of people to end spring bear hunts. This fall we have another opportunity to end spring bear hunting in our state. These are special hunts that must be approved each year. Our state’s wildlife commission will consider and vote on whether to have them again in 2022.