Black Bear

Black bear in tree
Black Bear sniffing berries
Black Bear in Trash Bin
Bear running with fish
Black Bear in MRI


CDFW strives to ensure viable black bear (Ursus americanus) populations persist throughout the state where suitable habitat and other environmental conditions allow. Black bears provide many ecosystem benefits and are an important part of California's unique biodiversity. The black bear program was established to coordinate scientific research and population monitoring, to inform big game management, species management, and habitat conservation plans. Learn more!

Conservation and Management

The Department strives to conserve and maintain viable healthy black bear populations in California. To meet this goal, staff and our partners work to:

  • Provide for the beneficial use and enjoyment of wildlife by all citizens of the state;
  • Perpetuate all species for their intrinsic and ecological values;
  • Provide for aesthetic, educational, and non appropriative uses;
  • Maintain diversified recreational uses of wildlife including sport hunting;
  • Provide for economic contributions to the citizens of the state through the recognition that wildlife is a renewable resource, and;
  • Alleviate economic losses or public health and safety problems caused by wildlife.

California's black bear population has increased over the past few decades. In 1982, the statewide population was estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000 bears. Presently, the statewide population is conservatively estimated to be between 30,000 and 40,000 bears.

Black bears are legally designated as a game mammal in California. Bear hunting follows a regulated process that includes obtaining a tag and restricting hunting to a specified season.

Black Bear Policy in California

Consistent with Fish and Game Code sections 1801(opens in new tab), 4181(opens in new tab) and 4181.1(opens in new tab), the purpose of this updated statewide policy is to minimize human-bear conflicts and damage to private property while not significantly affecting California's bear population. The last time the Department holistically reviewed and updated its various bear policies was in 2000. Good wildlife management requires periodic review and update of policies to ensure adaptive improvements are made based on sound science. The major point of this policy update is to clarify categories of human-bear conflicts the Department and citizens experience and provide guidance on how such categories will be handled.

While this policy describes a comprehensive range of different situations, the core types of human-bear conflicts are:

  1. Public safety;
  2. Property damage; and,
  3. Continued human-bear interactions where the individual bear(s) have become habituated to human food sources.

This policy seeks to improve management in each of these core situational categories, provide clarity to staff and the public, and present a comprehensive humane set of strategies and actions. It has been implemented for the purposes of providing a consistent approach to bear management in California.

The Department’s updated policy provides information and guidance to the public and CDFW staff responding to human/bear conflicts or welfare bear incidents. This policy will be reviewed and evaluated on an ongoing basis to provide the most up to date guidelines for bear management in California.

Science and Research

The Department seeks to improve understanding of black bears in California specific to: 1) population monitoring; 2) species health; and human-black bear interactions. CDFW continues working to better understand the complexities and capabilities of this native species. Research is vital to applying an adaptive approach to managing their population.

Black Bear Biology


Black bears are large-bodied animals with a small narrow head and small ears. Black bears vary in color from cinnamon, tan, or brown to black. Some black bears have small white chest patches. 

  • Adult females (sow) typically weigh 100 - 200 pounds. Adult males (boar) typically weigh 150 - 350 pounds with some males weighing up to 500 lbs. 
  • Black bears have powerful limbs and well-developed claws on both front and hind feet. 
  • Black bears are excellent climbers able to quickly scale a tree to avoid unwanted interactions with other animals or humans.


Black bears are omnivores, and their teeth are adapted for feeding on both plant and animal matter. They are highly opportunistic and will nearly anything edible including, but not limited to:

  • Plants, insects, live prey such as deer fawns or birds, and dead animals. 
  • Berries, acorns, other highly-digestible plant foods, grasses and forbs. 
  • Garbage, compost, human food, strongly scented items such as lotion or sunscreen, pet food, animal feed, small livestock and pets.


Black bears mate in June and July. Reproductive success in female bears is related to abundance and availability of quality food. Sows generally breed every other year, and produce two to four cubs per litter. 

  • Adult females are capable of "delayed implantation" and can carry a fertilized egg for many months prior to attaching itself to the uterine wall of the female's body.
  • If a female has not accumulated enough body fat prior to hibernation, the egg will spontaneously abort.
  • Cubs are born in early February and weigh less than a pound at birth. Sows emerge from the den in April or May with their cubs weighing 5-7 pounds.

Black Bear Behavior

Body Language

Black bears are quite expressive and use their body and a range of facial and mouth expressions to communicate:

  • Agitated bears will snarl, open and close their mouth rapidly while salivating, bearing teeth, and making chomping (clacking) noises.
  • A bear walking with its head held below the shoulders likely indicates aggression.
  • A bear may bluff-charge by running full speed at a perceived threat or intruder, stopping just short, in a strong signal for the intruder to leave the area.


Black bears are not “true hibernators” instead capable of dozing for several months over winter. During this time, black bears are able to retain a body temperature of 88°F or higher, reduce their metabolic rate in half, and live off their own fat. 

  • Weight loss during hibernation is extreme. Adult males will typically drop between 15 and 30 percent of their body weight. Adult females can lose up to 40 percent of their body weight. 
  • Black bears prefer secure, thermally protective den sites often associated with large trees, but have been found to den in slash piles, under large rocks, and even open ground.

Matrilineal Learning

Black bear cubs follow their mother learning from everything she does including how and where to find food, what food sources are safe, what is dangerous and to be avoided. Unruly cubs are often disciplined by their mother's growling, grunting, and swats if a cub has not responded to her vocalizations. Some cubs remain with the sow for up to two years before they become independent and disperse to other suitable habitat.

Habitat and Range

The black bear range has expanded with bears now distributed throughout much of California. They occupy a variety of habitat, including grasslands, desert, valley foothills, and along the urban-wilderness interface. Populations are most dense in montane hardwood, montane chaparral, and mixed conifer forests with a wide variety of seral stages that offer both vegetative and structural diversity and diverse food sources. Most suitable black bear habitat in California is in public ownership, large blocks of habitat remain undeveloped, with an estimated 10 percent managed as a wilderness area or park.

Differentiation between distinct black bear "populations" is difficult because there are no significant barriers restricting bear movement between occupied habitat in California. Due to key differences in habitat and population density, CDFW has been able differentiate three regional "subpopulations" of black bear: North Coast/Cascade, Sierra, Central Western/Southwestern.

  • North Coast/Cascade subpopulation: Encompasses north and west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Almost all bear habitat is publicly owned or used for timber production. Prior studies indicate that population densities range from 1.0 to 2.5 bears per square mile (CDFW 1993).
  • Sierra Nevada subpopulation: Encompasses the Sierra Nevada Mountains extending from Plumas County to Kern County. Almost all bear habitat in this area falls within U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service lands. Prior studies indicate that population densities range from 0.5 and 1.0 bears per square mile (CDFW 1993).
  • Western/Southwestern subpopulation: Encompasses the Central Coast, Transverse Mountain Range, San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. Black bears were believed to be excluded from this area by the California grizzly bear (Ursus arctos californicus) until that species extirpation around the turn of the century. Prior studies indicate that population densities may be less than 0.25 bears per square mile (CDFW 1993).

Current Research

Research priorities to investigate black bear population status in California include regional population estimates, survival, human-black bear interactions, genetic integrity, diet, habitat connectivity, and wildlife health. Incorporating existing data (e.g., camera data, hunter harvest data) with more integrated and robust research will enable the Department to ensure sustainable use of wildlife resources. This effort aligns with research objectives identified in the current black bear management plan (California Department of Fish and Game, 1998).

Current Investigations

  • Region 1, North Coast: Cameras, marking animals associated with human-black bear interactions.
  • Region 1, Warner Mountains: Collaring, hair snares.
  • Region 2, Tahoe National Forest: Marking animals associated with human-black bear interactions.
  • Region 3, North Bay: Non-invasive DNA sampling.
  • Region 5, Transverse Range: Hair snares.
  • Region 6, Eastern Sierra: Collaring, hair snares, cameras.

Potential Conflict

Human-bear conflicts are reported in urban, rural and mountain communities throughout California. As communities expand into wildland areas, increasingly reported interactions between people and black bears has resulted in increased calls for assistance from the public. Many factors can lead to potential conflict due to increased attractants and competition for resources.

CDFW receives thousands of black bear sighting reports each year. Many reports describe concerns of human-bear interactions escalating to property damage or conflict. Most reports are resolved by providing species information and/or technical assistance. Few sightings result in a black bear being identified as an imminent threat to public safety.

It is natural for a bear to investigate all attractive smells and consume whatever seems like food. The only real solution to prevent conflict is to eliminate the attractant. If a black bear becomes habituated to humans or food conditioned, they may become increasingly bold or destructive. Property owners and tenants should take reasonable corrective measures such as: removal of food attractants, eliminating access to food attractants (e.g., bear-proof containers), electric fencing, electric mats. Learn more!

A person knowingly feeding a black bear could be subject to criminal penalties pursuant to California Code of Regulations, Title 14, § 251.3.


Fish and Game Code section 4181 and California Code of Regulations, Title 14, § 401 provide for the issuance of a revocable depredation permit to any owner or tenant of land or property that is being damaged or destroyed or is in danger of being damaged or destroyed by specific animals, including bears, as determined by Department staff. This ability has existed for Californians since at least 1957.

A permit shall be issued by the Department only upon satisfactory evidence of the damage or destruction. The Department may, at its discretion, add terms and conditions to the permit necessary to protect wildlife and ensure public safety. Importantly, the permit shall contain information about:

  1. Why the permit was necessary
  2. What efforts were made to solve the problem without killing the bear
  3. Corrective actions that should be implemented to prevent future conflict
  4. Proper disposal of the carcass.

If information is available to help identify the bear that caused the damage, this should be used to ensure the correct animal was trapped/captured before it is removed or lethally taken.

A depredation permit is the last step in a series of steps taken to prevent conflict and minimize property damage. Reasonable corrective measures should be made prior to issuing a permit. If no such efforts were made prior to requesting lethal action, the Department will work with the applicant to propose non-lethal efforts first, such as: Hazing; eliminating food attractants; enclosing animal pens; installing electric fencing; preventing access to potential denning sites; motion-sensor lights, sprinklers, or noise machines; guard animals.

Depredation permits may be issued for a variety of damages to personal property, such as damage to:

  • Structures, dwellings, vehicles, trailers, and recreational vehicles.
  • Orchards, agricultural crops, beehives (apiary).
  • Injury of loss of pets.
  • Injury or loss of livestock or fowl (e.g., sheep, goats, donkeys, chickens, geese, ducks).

Fish and Game Code section 4181.1(a) states any owner of livestock or the livestock owner’s employee may immediately take a bear encountered in the act of, inflicting injury to, molesting or killing livestock if the taking is reported to the Department no later than the next working day and the carcass is made available to the Department. If this occurs, LED should be notified for verification and reporting.

Wildlife Branch - Game Program
1010 Riverside Parkway, West Sacramento, CA 95605
Mailing: P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090
(916) 557-3444