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Mammoth, California

All About Black Bears

Bears live on all major land masses of the world, except Africa, Australia and Antarctica.

Lucky the Bear.

Only Black bears now live in California. The last Brown bear in California was shot in the 1920's. It's ironic to note that the Brown bear is the featured symbol on the California state seal and flag. Grizzly bears are one type of Brown bear. Brown bears have been exterminated throughout the United States and are currently only found in the contiguous United States in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Some Brown bear re-introduction programs similar to those for the wolf are now underway.

Black bears come in a range of colors from blonde to brown to black. Although there is a mix of colors in every Black bear population there are more black colored Black bears on the East Coast with the color shifting to more brown colored Black bears on the West Coast of North America. Black bears are tremendously adaptive and are found in all of Canada, 32 states in the United States, and even 5 states in Mexico. Regardless of the color of a bear's coat, he is most likely a Black bear if you are in the contiguous United States.

Black Bear Sow and Cubs.

Black bears are by far the most numerous bear in North America. Black bears hibernate longer in the colder climates of northern latitudes than their cousins in the warmer climates of southern latitudes. Cubs are nurtured by their mother through their second winter. This means sows can only give birth every other year. Even with this slow reproduction rate, the black bear population is now stable and growing.

Mammoth Lakes has about 30 Black bears that live within the city limits. While in Mammoth, we visited with my friend Steve Searles known in Mammoth as "The Bear Man". Steve has developed the first non-lethal system of managing bears and he works for the city as the Wildlife Management Officer. Steve utilizes bang devices and rubber bullets delivered via revolver or shot gun as well as vocal commands and body postures to communicate with wild bears that are not exhibiting acceptable behavior.

Steve Searles, The Bear Man.

Since Steve has started his program of non-lethal management of bears, there have been no attacks by bears in Mammoth and countless bears have been saved from being shot. The bears literally owe their lives to Steve. This system benefits humans and bears, since a problem bear that is shot usually has its territory taken over by another wild bear that soon becomes a problem as well. By "educating" a wild bear on what is acceptable and what isn't, humans and bears can coexist together successfully.

More bears live in the Mammoth area than would without humans. This is due to the fact bears scavenge human food. Steve is slowly cutting off this artificial food supply, through the use of bear proof dumpsters. The decrease in food is causing bears to have a decreased birth rate, and this is bringing their numbers back to a more natural level.

Black bears should be treated with the utmost respect at all times, but very rarely attack. You are 1,000's of times more likely to be killed from exposure to sunlight than be killed by a bear.

Never leave food in a car or camper. Bears are very intelligent and have an excellent sense of smell. Their claws are extremely good at ripping open cars to get food. I've observed bears breaking into cars before, and the bear reminded me of gigantic can opener.

Garbo the Bear.

Don't ever try to retrieve food taken by a Black bear. Bears firmly believe that "possession is nine-tenths of the law", and they will bite or claw you to defend "their" food. Black bears can easily out run humans, and they can climb trees as fast as most humans can run on flat ground. So be respectful!

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