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Michigan Black Bear Facts

The American Black Bear - Ursus americanus

What is the status of black bear in Michigan?
Approximately 15,000 - 19,000 black bears (including cubs) roam the hardwood and conifer forests of northern Michigan. About 90 percent of the bear live in the Upper Peninsula, while the remaining ten percent are mainly found in the northern Lower Peninsula. However, it is becoming increasingly common to see bear in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. During the past twenty-five years, the status of the Michigan black bear has been elevated from pest to prized game species. Today, Michigan's only bear species is protected by law and managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

How does the Department of Natural Resources manage black bear?
The goal for black bear management in Michigan is to ensure the long-term survival of this species and to provide Michigan citizens with a diversity of bear-related recreational opportunities. Research, population management, habitat protection, and public education are important elements of the DNR's bear management program. Funding for this program is generated from the sale of hunting licenses and federal taxes on the sale of arms and ammunition. Private donations by hunter organizations also help to support bear research in Michigan.

What are the physical characteristics of the black bear?
Most black bear in Michigan have dark black fur. Brown color variations are more common in western states. The size of a bear depends on its age, sex, diet, and season of the year. Adult female bear are generally smaller than adult males. In Michigan, female bear range from 100-250 pounds, while adult males weigh between 150-400 pounds. Adult black bear measure about three feet high when on all four feet and about five feet when standing upright. A bear is considered an "adult" when it is capable of reproducing, which generally occurs at three to four years of age in Michigan. In the wild, bear can live 20 to 30 years.

What is the home range of a black bear?
A bear's home range is the area that provides sufficient food and cover for the animal to survive. Black bear are solitary animals, but family groups such as a sow and her cubs may be observed. Male black bear live in an area about 100 square miles in size, while females live in smaller areas of 10-20 square miles. Home range size is affected by food availability, the number of other bear in an area, and human development. As more people move to northern Michigan, the amount of undeveloped bear habitat declines.

What is the diet of the black bear?
In one word - everything. Black bear are considered opportunistic feeders, taking advantage of many seasonally available foods. Bear eat succulent, new green vegetation in the spring after they leave their dens. Colonial insects, such as ants and bees, may make up over half of their diet in late spring and early summer. Black bear experience rapid weight gain in years when wild berries, which are high in sugars and other carbohydrates, are available beginning in mid summer. Nuts and acorns, because they are high in fats and protein, are the best fall foods for bear when preparing for their winter's sleep. If given the chance, black bear will supplement their natural diet with human garbage, pet foods, birdseed, or any foods placed to feed or attract other wildlife.

When do bear breed?
Breeding takes place in June and July and cubs are born in early January while females are in dens. A litter may consist of one to four cubs, with two or three cubs being most common. An adult female bear usually breeds every other year, but may mate in consecutive years if cubs are lost before mid summer. A female bear will generally breed for the first time at 2'/z years of age in the northern Lower Peninsula, and at 3'/2 years of age in the Upper Peninsula.

What are bear cubs like?
At birth, bear cubs weigh less than one pound, but mother's rich milk helps them grow quickly. Mother and cubs emerge from the den in spring, with the cubs weighing up to ten pounds. Cubs are under the watchful eyes of their mother throughout the summer and fall seasons. As autumn nears its end, the female once again searches for a suitable den site for herself and her cubs. After emerging from the den the following spring, the adult female will stay with her offspring until she is ready to breed again in June. At that time, she aggressively discourages the companionship of these now yearling bear and they are forced to fend for themselves.

Why do bear hibernate?
Black bear are not true hibernators. Instead they remain in a state of lethargy during their winter's sleep. In the den, they reduce their metabolic rate, surviving without eating, drinking, exercising, or passing waste. A long winter's sleep is the bear's way of escaping the scarcity of food, not for avoiding the cold weather. Black bear in Michigan usually enter dens in late October and emerge in April or May. Den sites may be hallowed-out trees, brush piles, or even open ground nests. If you find a bear in such a place, leave the area immediately. It is unlawful to harass bear in their dens. It is best to get a closer look at a den site in the summer when there is no chance of disturbing a bear.

What types of signs would indicate a bear has been present?
Learning to recognize bear signs can add to the enjoyment of outdoor experiences. Tracks, droppings, claw-marked trees, turned-over rocks, torn-up tree stumps, or broken limbs of fruiting trees are all signs that a bear has been in the area. People who live in northern Michigan sometimes find bear signs in their own yards. Tipped-over trash cans broken bird feeders, and clawed buildings are evidence of a bear visit.

Do black bear present any danger to people?
Black bear are shy by nature. If you were hiking through the woods, a bear would most likely hear you or pick up your scent and run off before you even knew it was there. Bear have a natural fear of humans and it is best if that fear remains intact. If we leave foods accessible to bear, they may overcome their fear of humans in order to take advantage of it. Bear that learn to associate food with humans can be dangerous. People must act responsibly when living or vacationing in bear country, and know what activities are likely to attract bear. Prevention is the key to avoiding people-bear conflicts.

Click here for more information on black bear in Michigan.

Publication reference IC2153 (Rev.11/19/2004)