Black Bears

By Jennifer Olivier & Nora Riches

Marcy C. Houle, a biologist for Multnomah Counties Wildlife Corridor Study, reported that black bears rOam from the Coast Range throughout the Tualatin Mountains to Forest Park. Her research reveals that bears are an important focus of this study because they are an indicator species. An indicator species is one that demonstrates the environment's ability to support a wide variety of animal life.

In an effort to learn more about bears and their habitat requirements, Friends of Forest Park, flew out from Tennessee a nationally recognized black bear expert, Dr. Michael Pelton. In early May, Dr. Pelton met with interested residents of the Linnton and Skyline Ridge neighborhoods at the Linnton Community Center and with a larger group at the Audubon Society.

At the meetings, Dr. Pelton shared his knowledge of bears gleaned from more than 20 years of study. He answered questions and requested that the audience mark, on a map, bear sightings and the location of their tracks,
dens, etc. Many residents were able to do this.

Black bears are small, averaging two to three feet tall and weigh from 200 - 500 pounds. Male bears have a territory of about 30 square miles, while breeding females have a smaller home range of about ten square miles. Black bears are opportunistic feeders, eating mostly berries, roots, insects, grubs, and fruit from abandoned orchards. "Bears can gain over 150 pounds during their fall feeding frenzy," says Dr. Pelton, "as they prepare for the winter months." Black bears mate during July but the fertilized egg does not implant in the uterus until November. One to four cubs are then born in January or February. The female bear stays in her den until her cubs are approximately two to three months old. Male bears retreat to their dens only during the coldest month or two.

There's a common misconception that black bears are an aggressive and dangerous animal. Dr. Pelton stated that actually bears are non-aggressive and shy. When a resident asked, "would a mother bear with cubs be dangerous to encounter?" Dr. Pelton responded that if you threatened the cubs and made them cry out, the mother would probably charge. But, in more than 20 years of study, . he had never seen a charge fulfilled. The charge is a bluff intended to scare the attacker away. Gary Alt, black bear researcher in Pennsylvania is quoted in an article entitled, "Learning To Live With Bears," (National Wildlife Magazine, April-May, 1990) as saying, "It isn't food or cover that limits bears, it's human attitudes. Once people realize that black bears don't go feeding on children, co-existence becomes much easier."

As an indicator species black bears are a testimony to the integrity of the wilderness. If black bears can move freely, then most other species can also move freely from the Coast to Forest Park. This free movement will ensure that Forest Park does not become a biological island, wherein species become isolated and inbred. Genetic diversity of species, plant or animal, is an essential element of their survival.