Photo: Mike Carraway
Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
Classification: Game Species (Big Game)
Abundance: Common in coastal and mountain regions of the state; uncommon in Piedmont region
Larger version of map (PDF)
Larger version of map (JPEG)
Coexisting with Black Bears
Black bear sow and cub (Photo by Ken Taylor/NCWRC)
Black bear (Photo by Melissa McGaw/NCWRC)
UNC-TV NC Now Black Bears in North Carolina - interview with Black Bear & Furbearer Biologist Colleen Olfenbuttel (video)
Release of yearling bear after being rehabilitated as an orphaned bear cub (video)
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.
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.
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. Learn more about black bear hibernation.
Learn more by reading the Black Bear species profile.
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's black bear management involves:
The Wildlife Commission 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.
2012-2022 Black Bear Management Plan (PDF)
Management of Black Bears brochure (PDF)
Wildlife Commission 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.
Black Bear Harvest Reports
*LIVE Current Season Report Harvest Totals*
Reports on the surveys:
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
Bearwise in North Carolina - Learn more about this regional program that shares ways to prevent conflicts with black bears.
What do I do if I see a bear?
Learn how to become a bear-wise community at Bearwise.org and learn about North Carolina BearWise certification requirements (PDF).
The Wildlife Commission does not typically trap or relocate bears. Find out why.
Have a question? Call the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401, Mon. - Fri., 8 am - 5 pm (excluding state holidays) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attention Bear Hunters!
Submitting the bear tooth is now mandatory
for all hunter harvested bears!
Why submit the premolar tooth?
How to Submit your premolar tooth?
If you are unable to view the how-to video below, view it on YouTube or read the how-to steps below.
Please submit both first premolars from the upper jaw (see picture below). Click on picture for a closer view.
Black Bear Species Profile
Co-Existing with Bears