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American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

January 29, 2021

American black bears (Ursus americanus) are endemic to North America, having speciated from other ursids some 1.2 to 1.8 million years ago (Kurtn & Anderson 1994). During that time, black bears came to occupy nearly all of the forested areas of the North American continent. Historically, black bears were one of the most important mammals to indigenous peoples of North America by providing food, fat, hides, and tools (Raybourne 1987). Bears also played important roles in indigenous culture as symbols of strength, hard work, and love (see Rockwell 1991). In the 18th and 19th centuries in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, European settlers with firearms reduced black bear numbers (Williams 1930), but the axe and plow had equally negative effects on bear populations as forests gave way to agriculture and livestock. Black bears also faced intense pressure from unregulated market hunting, poaching, and predator control programs. Black bears disappeared from large portions of their North American range, being relegated to swamps, thickets, rugged mountains, and other areas deemed too inaccessible, unsuitable, or undesirable to be occupied by humans (Pelton & van Manen 1994). In the early 20th century, Canadian and U.S. governments established national parks, forests, and refuges, and state and provincial legislatures created wildlife management agencies and enacted regulations to manage wildlife populations. By the late 20th century, the combination of public land infrastructure, habitat improvements, harvest regulations, law enforcement, and information-education programs resulted in significant increases in black bear numbers and range expansions in the U.S. and Canada (Pelton & van Manen 1994), aided in no small part by the remarkable adaptability of this animal (Pelton 2003; Scheick & McCown 2014). Today, the American black bear is one of the most iconic, abundant, and economically important bear species in the world. Unfortunately, black bear populations in Mexico have not recovered similarly to those in the U.S and Canada, and the status of the species there is uncertain.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
DOI
Authors Joseph D. Clark, Jon P. Beckmann, Mark S. Boyce, Bruce D Leopold, Michael R. Pelton
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70218787
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Leetown Science Center

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