Black Bears and Individual Distance

By Dave Hanks

INDIVIDUAL DISTANCE is a moving space around an individual’s body that others are not allowed to enter unless either mating or fighting. Different species have specific requirements, as well as, individuals within each species. Bears are no different. They are real attractions but are dangerous to approach, and it’s best not to approach them. However, their ears give off visual signals. Erect ears usually go with an alert look which indicates the bear is curious and checking you out. It’s when they lay their ears back that they are indicating that their space is being violated.

Black Bears are solitary beasts and so they naturally have great space requirements. They work to maintain a distance from other bears and perceived enemies. A male bear uses up to a 200 square mile area, while a female requires 35. They use the same trails year after year and have convenient escape routes to maintain their space. Trees are also very critical as a means to escape confrontations.

Black Bears are crepuscular (morning and twilight active), which results in fewer confrontations with Grizzlies. They usually spend most of the daytime and nighttime in burrows. Much of their behavior, although not totally understood by man, is directed to maintaining a distance from other bears. When standing on their hind legs, they are gaining information through better vision and smell. Smell is their best sense. It is said: “That if all smells were as strong to humans as skunk smell, you’d know how great a bear’s olfactory ability is.”

A “woof” is a sign that they have been startled. I experienced that “woof” when hiking up to an Osprey nest in British Columbia. I noticed a blackness in the vegetation by the trail ahead. That was stimulus enough for me to back up slowly the way I had come. If a bear does charge or run, they are extremely fast. They can cover 50 yards in 3 seconds.

(A Black Bear, with her ears back, warns me not to come any closer)