Both black bears and grizzly bears are native to Arizona. However, the grizzly bear is no longer an extant species there. The last grizzly bear in the state was killed in the early 1900s.
Now the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the only bear species that still resides in the state of Arizona. The Arizona Game and Fish department gives an estimated population of 2,000 to 2,500 bears in the state. Their population estimate is based on trends in harvest data each year combined with population density reports from studies conducted in various areas across the state.
Arizona’s black bears
The black bear is one of Arizona’s apex predators, along with mountain lions, jaguars, Mexican wolves and coyotes.
The black bear’s scientific name, Ursus americanus, means American bear in English. They are the most common and well-known bears in North America. They are exclusively a North American bear, while North America’s other two bear species, brown bears (Grizzly bears are a sub-species of brown bears) and polar bears, also live in Europe and Asia.
The black bear’s range begins in Alaska and northern Canada and extends south into central Mexico. Today, there are black bear populations in 38 U.S. states, 11 Canadian provinces, and 7 Mexican states.
Black bears are mostly solitary animals, with the exception of raising young. Their home ranges utilize wooded areas and vary in size depending on the density of potential food sources. In Arizona, black bears have home ranges that cover anywhere from 7 to 50 square miles. A male black bear’s home range will generally be larger than that of a female. Also, adult males may have home ranges that overlap the home ranges of adult female black bears.
While these animals generally do have home ranges and will defend a food source or a mate if another bear is present, they are not overly territorial and will tolerate the presence of other bears within their home ranges.
At around three to four years old, a male black bear is mature enough to mate. What’s more, Females usually first breed in their fourth year. They then generally breed every other year thereafter. This depends on food sources because if the food is scarce, they may wait an additional year or two until they mate again.
Like with other bear species, female black bears have delayed implantation, which means that their embryo(s) do not attach to their uterus until fall when they go into hibernation. Black bears have one to five cubs, which tend to stay with their protective mother until they are a year and a half to two years of age.
What do black bears look like?
Adult black bears are anywhere from 50 to 85 inches long from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. Their average height is around 30 inches at the shoulder. The normal black bear’s weight range is from 140 to 400 pounds. However, males can be up to 70% larger than females. Standing on its hind legs, a large male black bear can be over seven feet tall. What’s more, some giant-sized individuals weigh over 800 pounds. The heaviest black bear ever harvested came from Pike County, Pennsylvania. It weighed 875 pounds.
Even though they are named black bears, their colors can vary from black, blue-grey, cinnamon, brown, blue-black, and on infrequent occasions, a black bear can even be white. Although most Arizona bears are black, a small percentage of them are brown, cinnamon, or dark blond. Some black bears have a V-shaped white patch on their chest.
Other features that black bears have are long brown snouts, short tails, and small brown eyes, although their eyes are blue at birth.
Black bears lack the shoulder hump that brown bears or grizzly bears have. In areas that both species inhabit, the hump, or the lack thereof, is a distinguishing feature. Any wild bear in Arizona will be a black bear, though.
Where are the black bears in Arizona?
In Arizona, black bears inhabit most forested environments, such as pinyon-juniper, oak woodland, coniferous forests, and chaparral habitats.
The highest population density of black bears in the state is along the Mogollon Rim in the Mazatzal Mountains in central Arizona. Also, in eastern Arizona, the largest black bear populations are in the White and Pinaleno Mountains. See
Black bears also occupy around 10,000 square miles of tribal land in the northeastern part of the state.
For some reason, there is not a sizeable black bear population north of the Colorado River.
Black bears are present in varying densities in all 3 of Arizona’s national parks. There are more of them in Grand Canyon than in Petrified Forest or Saguaro National Parks though.
How to make your property less attractive to bears
In drought years, there is a higher likelihood of potential conflicts between bears and humans. Bear activity in rural and even suburban and urban areas increases significantly in times of drought. Drought-stressed bears might wander into areas with higher human populations in search of food.
Another factor that can potentially cause bears to wander is the time of year. When female bears or sows begin to kick their previous year’s cubs off in early summer, young bears, particularly young male bears, sometimes wander long distances looking to establish their own home ranges. At these times, they occasionally wander into residential areas as they search for their own territory.
Besides being dangerous apex predators, bears can potentially cause significant damage to your home and or vehicles. For example, if a black bear smells food in your parked car, it is capable of tearing the door off to get to it.
If you live in bear country, the following bear precautions will make your property less attractive to wandering bears.
It’s a bad idea to feed your outside pets more than they can efficiently clean up before dark. It’s also a bad idea to store your pet food outside. If you store your pet food outside, keep it in a bear-proof container.
Backyard barbecue grills are bear attractors. You Should clean your barbecue grill after every use and store it inside. If you live on a large property, dispose of your grease drippings and food waste in an area far away from your home. For the majority of people, though, who don’t live on a large acreage, the best thing to do is to store your grease drippings and meat scraps in the refrigerator until garbage day and then throw it away just before the garbage truck comes.
You should also store your household garbage cans indoors and clean and disinfect them regularly.
Garden compost also has the potential to attract bears. Unless you can store your compost under cover, you probably shouldn’t be composting in bear range.
Keep all food or empty containers that have had food in them out of your vehicles. Bears have a powerful sense of smell. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, an adult black bear is capable of bending your car door in half if it decides it wants to get to the human food inside.
Use electric fencing.
If you have a vegetable garden, a chicken coop, fruit trees, or any other outside bear attractants, you should consider using electric fencing to keep the bears at bay.
Bird feeders will attract bears.
Also, bird feeders have the potential to bring bears to your property, whether that be hummingbird feeders or ones that dispense out bird seed. If you live in bear country, it’s not a good idea to put out birdseed during the warmer months. Wait to feed the birds until the winter when bears are hibernating.
Never feed the bears.
A huge mistake that people sometimes make is to put food out to attract bears on purpose. When you do that, you create a situation that is beyond your control.
When bears begin to associate humans with food, they lose any fear of humans that they might have had. They also might act out aggressively if they decide that you’re not giving them the food that they want and are accustomed to. They might also take that frustration out on your neighbor or, worse yet, your neighbor’s children. Look at the article found here for an example of what I’m talking about.
It’s helpful to remember the axiom, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” Feeding bears habituates them to humans and human food.
The best way to make a wild bear into a nuisance bear is to feed it. From there, the chances increase that it will have to be euthanized because it poses a danger to humans.
The first time you encounter a bear on your property, don’t make it feel welcome. It’s important to harass it. Make loud noises such as yelling, banging pots or pans, or honking an air horn to discourage further unwanted visits. You should never encourage bears to stay on your property. Keeping bears wild lessens the chance of a future dangerous situation.
How dangerous are black bears?
The knee-jerk response to that question is that black bears are timid, cautious animals; they’re more afraid of you than you are of them. All that is true most of the time. However, that’s only most of the time.
It’s a very rare occasion, but sometimes black bears are a danger to humans. For example, according to Mark Hart, who is the public information officer-program manager for the AZGFC, in 2018, a man was hospitalized due to wounds he suffered in a black bear attack south of Patagonia, Arizona. See
The following is from the Krebs Creek article titled Are Black Bears Dangerous to Humans?
“Black bears are not aggressive generally. They’re omnivores, which means their diet includes plant material but also meat. At times, black bears’ diets have been documented to consist of 96% plant material. This makes them one of the least predacious of all carnivores. However unaggressive they might be most of the time, black bears are still dangerous. In fact, at least one person is killed somewhere in North America each year by a black bear.
From 2001 through 2021, Black Bears killed twenty-eight people in North America. That’s a fact that flies in the face of the other points we know about these animals.
According to Doctor Stephan Herrero in his book “Bear Attacks, Their Causes And Avoidance,” from 1900 through 1980, 90% of the fatal attacks by black bears on humans in the United States and Canada were carried out by a predatory animal. In other words, 90% of the time, when black bears attack people, it’s because they view them as a food source.”
I’ll leave off there; if you want to read the rest of the article, you can click on the link.
The point is not to scare the reader. Black bear attacks are very rare. However, we’re dealing with unpredictable wild animals that have the ability to kill you with very little effort if that’s what they decide to do, and in rare circumstances, that’s exactly what they decide to do. Take that into consideration before you feed one.
“90% of the time, when black bears attack people, it’s because they view them as a food source.”Dr. Stephan Herrero “Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidance,”
To see how to handle the situation if you encounter a bear in the wild, and how to set up your camp in bear country look at Camping in Bear Country