Grizzly Bear (Brown Bear)

Grizzly Bear, USFWS Photo

(Ursus arctos horribilis)

Description: Equipped with massive shoulders and muscular necks, females weigh between 300-450lbs, with males averaging 400-800lbs. The largest males can weigh over 1,000lbs. Shoulder height is approximately 36 inches, with a body length between 72 – 96 inches. They can run up to speeds of 35mph and have long, non-retractable claws for digging. Their coats range from brown to yellow to cinnamon and have a distinguishable hump on there back (black bears do not have a hump).

Diet: Largely omnivores, 70 – 80% of their diet is vegetation, including roots, stems, leaves, flowers, nuts and berries. They are adept at digging up insects, squirrel caches, marmot dens and mice. They will also prey on larger mammals, particularly young elk, deer and moose. The white-bark pine has historically been an invaluable source of nutrition for the great bear. However, due to climate change, white-bark pine is declining, spelling an uncertain future for the grizzly.

Habitat: Once prominent along the short-grass prairies of the West, the brown bear has been largely limited to the ridges, mountains, and forested landscapes of the Northern Rockies. Grizzlies are the epitome of wildness and an indicator of intact ecosystems, requiring large tracts of protected landscapes with little or no roads and human disturbance. Denning season for the great bear usually begins in October/November and hibernate throughout the winter (they do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate during that time).

Range: Extirpated throughout much of its historical range, the bear is slowly recovering in the Northern Rockies. There are five designated recovery zones for the great bear: Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirks, and the Bitterroots, which cover the Clearwater Basin. There have been sightings of brown bears in the Northern Cascades, too.

Reproduction: Brown bears produce cubs every other year or every three years, and do not come into sexual maturity until they are seven. They typically mate in June/July with 1 – 4 cubs being born in the den sometime between January and March. Born helpless, the cubs emerge from the den with the sow in April/May and spend that summer, and usually that winter, with her, before dispersing.

Threats: Hunted into extinction throughout much of its former range, the grizzly bear is threatened by road building, logging, poaching, development and climate change.

Legal Status: Despite attempts to delist the brown bear from the Endangered Species list, it remains currently listed as threatened.

Miscellaneous: In 2007, the client of an outfitter shot and killed a 500-600lb. male grizzly bear in the Kelly Creek Roadless Area on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. A victim of mistaken identity (the shooter claims they thought it was a black bear), DNA results indicate that the bear had the same genetics as brown bears in the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho. The bear that was shot and killed was the first confirmed sighting of a grizzly in north-central Idaho in approximately sixty years.

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