Bears-Everybodys Favorite

by Dave Hanks

It matters not what type of life-form you enjoy watching, if you come upon a bear, you will suddenly become a “bear watcher.” If you visit Alaska, and have plenty of time, it’s great to drive there. The biggest reason is that there is a lot of wildlife along the ALCAN Highway. This is especially true of Black Bears. We have driven on three different occasions. When spotting a bear, I would get out with my tripod and camera. By carefully watching the bear’s body language, I could maintain a reasonable distance. Most animals send signals, but you have to learn to recognize them. Nevertheless, being out in the vicinity of a bear is very exhilarating. Once in Yellowstone, two other gentlemen and I were photographing a Black Bear. I could hear their wives begging them to not get too close, when over it all came my wife’s voice saying: “Get closer and get a decent picture.”

Black Bears adapted in treed habitats and so trees are critical to their existence. They are excellent climbers, and will utilize the trees for safety measures. Because of this, they are not as aggressive as Grizzlies. Grizzlies adapted in more wide open areas - so size and aggressiveness became necessary traits. Blacks have roman noses where a Grizzly’s face is dished. Blacks also have smooth shoulders where a Grizzly has a hump between them. Both species basically eat the same items and are mostly vegetarian. Blacks are smaller. The adults may weigh anywhere from 200 to 600 pounds. They also wean their cubs a year earlier than Grizzlies do.

Black Bears are not always black, especially here in the west. They can be various shades of brown, cinnamon, or even white. They don’t always den underground in the winter. They may utilize a large, hollow log or even get under low hanging conifer branches. These branches get covered over and insulated with snow, forming a makeshift den.

It has been said in jest: “Another way to tell the difference between the two bears is to climb a tree – If the bear comes after you it is a black. But if it rips the tree down and shakes you out of it, IT’S A GRIZZLY!”

This Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is in a logical dining spot – grass.