Black bears historically ranged throughout most of North America except for the desert southwest and the treeless barrens of northern Canada. They still occupy much of their original range with the exception of the Great Plains, the midwestern states, and parts of the eastern and southern coastal states (Fig. 3). Black bear and grizzly/brown bear distributions overlap in the Rocky Mountains, Western Canada, and Alaska.
Black bears frequent heavily forested areas, including large swamps and mountainous regions. Mixed hardwood forests interspersed with streams and swamps are typical habitats. Highest growth rates are achieved in eastern deciduous forests where there is an abundance and variety of foods. Black bears depend on forests for their seasonal and yearly requirements of food, water, cover, and space.
Black bears are omnivorous, foraging on a wide variety of plants and animals. Their diet is typically determined by the seasonal availability of food. Typical foods include grasses, berries, nuts, tubers, wood fiber, insects, small mammals, eggs, carrion, and garbage. Food shortages occur occasionally in northern bear ranges when summer and fall mast crops (berries and nuts) fail. During such years, bears become bolder and travel more widely in their search for food. Human encounters with bears are more frequent during such years, as are complaints of crop damage and livestock losses.Â Fig. 3. Range of the black bear in North America.