The black bear is the only bear species found in North Carolina or anywhere in the eastern United States. The successful comeback of the American black bear in North Carolina represents one of wildlife management's greatest achievements. Black bears were once restricted to remote areas and reached very low population levels in the mid-1900s. Today, black bears are found approximately 60% of the total land area of North Carolina.
As habitat is developed and human populations increase, it is ultimately human attitudes toward bears that will determine whether bears will continue to exist in the state. Unfortunately, bears are viewed either as dangerous animals or cuddly pets. It is best to avoid these extreme views and instead show a healthy respect for this magnificent forest animal.
Their diets typically consist of acorns, berries, carrion, corn, fish, frogs, fruits, grasses, grubs, honey, insects, larvae, leaves, nuts, peanuts, reptiles, roots, seeds, small mammals, soybeans and wheat. Bears prefer large expanses of uninhabited woodland or swampland with dense cover. In the east, lowland hardwoods, swamps and pocosins, provide good bear habitat. These types of habitat provide the necessary travel corridors, escape cover and natural foods that bears need to thrive in North Carolina.
History and Status
Click here for a detailed report on the History of NC bears (PDF)
Before Europeans came to the New World, black bears lived in all forested regions of North America and were abundant in the area that would one day become North Carolina. However, like mountain lions and gray wolves, black bears were often killed by early settlers to protect their families, crops and livestock. In time, bears across the state were impacted by human development. By the early 1900s, black bears were found only in the most remote mountains and coastal swamps of the Tarheel State. Compounding the decrease in available habitat, the American chestnut blight (a tree-killing fungus) hit the mountain region in the 1920s, causing the loss of the most important nut-producing tree for bears and other species of wildlife. As a result, bear populations suffered. Mountain lion and gray wolf populations never recovered, but the black bear has made a remarkable recovery in both population and range over the last 30 to 40 years. Bears have come back to North Carolina without the aid of stocking efforts like those used to bring back wild turkeys and white-tailed deer. Black bear expansion has occurred naturally as bears have moved into suitable, but previously unoccupied, habitats at a rapid rate. Today, there are approximately 15,000 bears in the state, occupying about 60% of the state’s total land area.
The black bear is an omnivore with a diet of both plants and animals. It varies in color: in North Carolina, the black bear is usually black with a brown muzzle and sometimes a white patch on its chest, commonly referred to as a chest blaze. In other areas of North America, black bears can be a very common brown color or a more rare blue and white. All bear species have five toes on each foot and each toe has a sharp curved claw enabling the bear to feed on insects and grubs in decaying logs. Black bears rely mostly on their sense of smell and hearing due to poor eyesight, but are adept at climbing, running, swimming and digging. They have been clocked at speeds of 35 miles per hour over short distances.
Bears prefer large expanses of uninhabited woodland or swampland with dense cover. In the east, lowland hardwoods, swamps and pocosins, provide good bear habitat. Recent research has shown bears to be much more adaptable to habitat changes than previously thought and some bears have adapted to living near developed areas.
Denning and Hibernation
Bears put on additional weight in autumn to prepare for winter denning. They build dens in cavities of live trees, hollow logs, caves, rock outcroppings, cavities in the ground, or in a thicket. Usually black bears construct nests of leaves, sticks, and grass within the den, which often resemble giant bird nests. In North Carolina, den entry can occur as early as November or as late as January, though male bears in the coastal plain region may active throughout winter. Most North Carolina bears emerge from their dens in March or early April, depending on the weather and mobility of their cubs. To find out more about bear hibernation, click here.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's black bear management involves:
Bear safely crossing Highway 64 by using a wildlife
underpass in Washington County.
NCWRC oversees all bear research conducted in North Carolina through direct studies by Commission personnel as well as participation and oversight on a variety of research projects involving professors and students from universities.
In recent years, numerous universities including Auburn University, North Carolina State, the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech have performed research in North Carolina under permit from NCWRC.
Research has focused on issues ranging from bear habitat use and home ranges to procedures for estimating bear populations and reducing vehicle collisions. The results of these research studies are often published in scientific journals.
A cinnamon-phase black bear observed
in Avery County.
(Photo credit: Travis Proctor)
NCWRC biological staff can assess the status of the bear population through various monitoring indices derived from harvest, non-harvest mortality, scent stations, nuisance activity, and bear observations. This information, collected over along time period, allow us to monitor population age structure and reproductive parameters of the bear population. This data also helps NCWRC to estimate population levels. The information derived from these monitoring activities help NCWRC track trends in the bear population and provides for science-based decision making and biologically-sound management principles.
Below you will find reports on the surveys conducted by NCWRC biologists:
Black bears are an important part of North Carolina's fauna. As human populations increase, it is ultimately human attitudes toward bears that will determine whether bears will continue to exist in the state. Unfortunately, bears are viewed either as dangerous animals or cuddly pets. It is best to avoid these extreme views and instead show a healthy respect for this magnificent forest animal.
Please read how you can take simple, common-sense steps to do your part in ensuring that bears and people can live together. Implementing these steps will avoid attracting bears to your property and prevent conflicts from occurring. Remember, prevention is the best medicine!
Preventing and Resolving Black Bear Conflicts
- Your information allows NCWRC biologists to better monitor bear populations, make management decisions, and evaluate the impacts of bear harvests.
- By recording age and sex of harvested bears over a period of years, biologists can more accurately model bear populations.
***** We need information on all harvested bears, young and old, to accurately model the bear population. *****
How to Report?
Instructions for Collecting Bear Teeth
Please submit both first premolars from the upper jaw (see picture below). Click on picture for a closer view.
- The tooth we need is the very small tooth immediately behind the upper canine tooth (see drawing).
- Use a screwdriver, ice pick, or knife blade to push the gum down and away from the tooth.
- Pull the tooth out with pliers or pry it out using the canine as a lever.
- DO NOT BREAK THE TOOTH OFF AT THE GUMLINE; WE NEED THE WHOLE TOOTH INCLUDING THE ROOT.
- Put both premolar teeth in the envelope, then seal it. Fill in the data on the envelope and data sheet and include your address if you want us to send the age of the bear to you and get a hat. Contact wildlife personnel to make arrangements for all data to be turned in.
- If you are unable to pull a premolar, the jaw can be cut.