Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

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Entering Griz Country
Curious Grizzly CubsGrizzly Bear Cubs, Bob Sihler photo.
Grizzly near YellowstoneA Yellowstone Park Grizzly, Tarol photo.


Just lost a friend in Canmore...Grizzly Scat, Dow Williams photo.

Anyone who frequents the Rocky Mountains will more than likely see a Grizzly. Perhaps no animal instills more fear in the Rocky Mountains than the Ursus arctos horribilis. The Latin name itself references an animal that is horrible. Many of us have stories to share. Most of them end with a great memory, some of them don’t. It is the stories of the ones who are injured by Grizzlies that creates the image of a horrible blood thirsty killer. In actuality, Grizzly Bears are like any animal and would generally prefer to avoid human contact. Grizzlies, like most other animals, will only attack when they feel threatened or cornered.

I have been fortunate to see many Grizzlies in my numerous trips into Glacier National Park in Northwestern Montana. Allow me to share two of my Grizzly encounter stories:

In the early 1980’s my hiking companions and I were shadowed by a Grizzly for about a quarter mile while walking on a trail from Red Eagle Lake in Glacier. We could hear the bear and eventually it came onto the trail then stood up on its hind legs and then continued on its way after a brief look. This was an incredible experience that I will never forget.

On another occasion, my wife and I were hiking on the Highline Trail from Granite Park Chalet to Logan Pass and we passed within 10 yards of a grizzly as it fed below the trail. Unbeknownst to us the bear was there but trees block our view until after we passed and looked back on the trail. The Grizzly was focused on digging for ground squirrels and did not care about us in the slightest. This was certainly a close encounter that we were glad to look back on and breathed a sigh of relief.

In both cases we were exercising caution and using good manners while traveling in Grizzly Country.

Please attach your Quality Grizzly photos to this site.

Grizzly Bear, Ursus arctos horribilis

A Grizzly Samples the Wind (or Me)Who's Stalking Who?, Bob Sihler photo.

The Grizzly can vary in color from very light cream to black. The long guard hairs on their backs and shoulders often have white tips and give the bears a "grizzled" appearance, hence the name "grizzly."

The correct scientific name for the species is “brown bear”, but only coastal bears in Alaska and Canada are referred to as such, while inland bears and those found in the lower 48 states are called Grizzly Bears.

In the Rocky Mountains, Grizzly males, called Boars, will weigh between 400 to 600 pounds and females, called Sows, will weigh 250 to 350 pounds. Grizzly bears are long lived mammals and generally live to be around 25 years old. Grizzlies can run up to 30 miles per hour.

An interesting fact is that in the fall when Grizzlies switch their diet to berries they have been known to eat more than 200,000 berries in one day. To find Grizzlies while they feed on berries focus on areas where there are buffalo berries. These berries are located in Lodge pole pine forests in drier areas of the Rocky Mountains. Where there is more moisture look for them as they feed on huckleberries along the Westside of the Continental Divide.

Grizzly bears need a great deal of space to provide for their habitat needs. In order to access seasonally abundant and widely dispersed foods, grizzly bears must travel great distances.

Distinguishing between a Black Bear and Grizzly is relatively easy when the following guidelines are considered. For more information go to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bear Identification page.

1) Black Bears have a straight facial profile as compared to a dish-shaped face on a Grizzly.
2) Grizzlies have a pronounced hump on their shoulders, Black Bears do not.
3) Black Bear claws are sharply curved and seldom over 1½ inches in length compared to a longer (2-4 inches) and less curved claw of a Grizzly.
4) Black Bear ears are longer and pointy, Grizzly ears appear to be short and rounded.
5) Lastly a Grizzly rear molar is never less than 1 ¼ inches in length whereas a Black Bear rear molar is never more than 1 ¼ inches in length.

Life Cycle:

Bear Danger!Bear Closure Sign on Iceberg Lake Trail in Glacier

Sows become sexually mature when they reach the age of 3 to 5 years of age. The breeding season occurs in June or July and the Sow will frequently mate with one or more Boars. The cubs are born after about 220 days of pregnancy. The cubs are born hairless and blind. They will weigh about 8.5-11.5 ounces and are about the size of a chipmunk. They get their nourishment from their mother rich milk and quickly put on weight and they are ready to leave the den with their mother in April or early May. The cubs will remain with their mother for a full year and will be unceremoniously sent off by their mother when she is ready to mate again.

Grizzly Bears dig dens for winter hibernation, often holing up in a suitable-looking hillside. Prior to entering their dens Grizzlies focus on putting on as much weight as possible to support their incredible weight loss during hibernation. Grizzly Bears do not actually hibernate all winter. They have times when they stir for brief moments. Studies indicate that during the winter their body temperatures drop as does the metabolic rate. They also do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate.


Grizzlies once lived in much of North America and even roamed the Great Plains. Lewis and Clark mentioned them in the journals while they were traveling in the Great Plains. As the settlement of North America increased the Grizzly was eliminated from much of its home range and was forced into isolated areas of habitat. It is estimated that today there are only about 1,000 to 1,200 Grizzlies in the United States. Although there is much debate about this estimate and the numbers may be higher. In Canada and Alaska there are higher population numbers.

Grizzlies can be found in the area in and near Yellowstone National Park, in the mountain ranges in Western Montana, Northern Idaho, the Cascades in Washington and in southeast British Columbia.

The Grizzly as a Predator:

Bear Danger!Grizzly Area Closure Sign.

My first exposure to Grizzlies was in the mid-1970s when my Grandfather homesteaded on a mountain in Northwestern Montana. During one summer night a sow Grizzly and her two cubs killed two of my Grandfather’s sheep. I was amazed that an animal like that would kill my Grandfather’s sheep. As I learned more about them I began to understand that the sow was merely doing what she needed to do to survive.

Grizzly bears are powerful predators and must be considered the top-of-the-food-chain wherever they exist. Although they are frequently depicted as being a carnivorous eating machine most of their diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, and roots.

In certain seasons Grizzlies will be more apt to eat carrion and prey on animals. Bears will focus on easy meals such as winter killed animals in early spring and easy prey such as ground squirrels are sought out in September when they are fat and slow. Grizzlies can frequently be seen digging for them on side hills. They will also feed on moose, caribou and elk calves when the opportunity arises.

Safety in Grizzly Bear Country:

NPS Handmade Bear WarningHandmade Sign in Glacier National Park, saintgrizzly photo.
[img:435465:alignleft:medium:Grizzly Area Closure Sign.]

Bear Safety Information from The US National Forest Service

Stay informed about recent bear activity in the area.
• Leave a travel plan with a friend, and sign in and out at the trailhead so that someone will know when to expect your return.
• If camping use Bear Proof Food Containers.
• Avoid sudden encounters and destruction of habitat. Stay on trails.
• Hike in groups to avoid surprising bears.
• Hike in daylight hours only.
• Make human sounds by talking, singing, or clapping your hands. Avoid high-pitched voices.
• Stay alert. Be aware of your surroundings. The potential for a bear encounter always exists. Look for paw prints, droppings, fresh diggings, torn-apart logs, and rocks that have been turned over. These may signal that a bear is active in the area.
• It is easy to become absorbed in photography, bird watching, or sightseeing. Stay alert.
• Bear food supplies such as berry fields, fish spawning areas, and animal carcasses should be recognized and avoided.
• Watch for noisy streams and wind directions that may mask your sound and scent.
• All bears have the ability to climb trees, some better than others.
• Just because you don't see a bear doesn’t mean they are not around. Grizzly bears hide or make daybeds in thick brush, often near trails.
• Always carry a used bandana, shirt, or parka that you can drop easily. Avoid dropping food, this will only encourage the bear's aggressiveness toward other hikers.

• Carry Bear Deterrent Spray and know how to use it.
• If you see a bear, stay calm and give it plenty of room. Do not startle it; detour slowly, keeping upwind so it will get your scent and know you are there. If you can't detour wait until it moves away from your route before proceeding.
• When a bear first detects you, it may stand upright and use all of its senses to determine what and where you are. Once it identifies you it may ignore you, move slowly away, run, or it may charge. A wild bear rarely attacks unless it feels threatened or provoked.
• On four legs, a bear may show agitation by swaying its head from side to side, making huffing noises and clacking its teeth.
• A charge or retreat may follow. Flattened ears and raised hair on the back of the neck indicate aggressive intent. If a bear runs with a stiff, bouncing gait, it may be a false charge.
• Never run, and do not try to climb a tree unless you are sure you have time to climb at least 10 feet before the bear reaches you. Bears can run very fast.
• If attacked by a bear, do not run. Bears can easily outrun you. Try playing dead. Lie flat on your stomach, or lie on your side with your legs drawn up to your chest. Clasp your hands over the back of your neck. Bears have passed by people in these positions without harming them.

Threats from Mankind:

[img:210044:alignright:medium:Handmade Sign in Glacier National Park, saintgrizzly photo.]
The biggest threat to Grizzly Bear survival in the lower 48 is human-caused mortality. Bears come into conflict with humans when they are attracted by garbage, pet foods and bird food.

In addition, some Grizzlies are accidentally killed as hunters mistake them for black bears, which are legal to hunt.

Poaching (illegal hunting) of Grizzlies also poses a threat.


In 1975, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the Lower 48 states, under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservation efforts have focused on securing habitat, increasing cooperation at all government levels for research and management. In 1982 an interagency Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan was completed which sets guidelines for further conservation efforts.

The Future:

The conservation effort for Grizzly Bears is being effective. The Yellowstone population of grizzly bears was declared recovered and removed from the 'Threatened' species list in April of 2007. There is hope for this species.


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