American black bear: non-detriment finding

Published 2012-07-05 - Revised 2014-02-17

Re.: Ursus americanus (American Black Bear) Non-Detriment Finding for Canada

Summary of finding:

Export of legally obtained black bear is considered non-detrimental.

  • Black bear is harvested as a both a game animal species (all range jurisdictions) and a furbearer species (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia) under the authorization of hunting/trapping permits or licences in accordance with their respective Wildlife Acts. The predominant method of harvest is hunting and Canadian export is primarily hunting trophies. Harvest of black bear occurs throughout its range (12 of 13 provinces and territories). The distribution of black bear is widespread throughout 95% (approximately 5 939 000 km2) of its historic Canadian range although fragmented in some areas.

  • The black bear is Secure in Canada according to Wild Species 2010: The General Status of Species in Canada. Jurisdictions report stable or increasing populations and no acute widespread threats to the species have been identified. The black bear was assessed as Not at Risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 1999.

  • Like all vertebrates in Canada, the black bear is legally protected through provincial or territorial legislation. Under these acts, certain uses of Canadian wildlife are allowed under specific regulations and only with the provision of licences or permits. Generally, without such a licence, the catch, possession, trade, sale, disturbance or destruction of wildlife is prohibited.

  • Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the management of terrestrial wildlife.Harvest activities in Canada occur under programs established for game species and management decisions are guided by planning processes, policy and legislation, trends in historical and recent use, Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge, and scientific information.Harvest can be adjusted to ensure sustainable management of the black bear by season, geographical management unit, method of take and/or harvest limit.

Supporting information:

Biological characteristics

The black bear is a slow growing, long-lived species and is estimated to live to 25-30 years in the wild. Reproductive success and survival over the winter is dependent on the availability of food. In Canada the age at first reproduction ranges between 3 to 7 years, varying with habitat and consistency of the food supply. Females produce a litter every two to three years. Litters average 2-3 cubs but may range between one and five cubs.

Denning is a survival strategy that allows bears to adapt to variable types of environmental conditions. In Canada, bears den for five to seven months in the winter when food supplies are not readily available, going into a state of metabolic hibernation where they live on stored fat reserves. Females emerge from hibernation by early April and breeding occurs in late spring to early summer. Female bears undergo a process known as delayed implantation. In this reproductive strategy, the eggs develop into small embryos that lie dormant in the uterus. If the bear acquires enough food to reach a minimum fall weight, the embryo will implant in the uterus and the female will give birth in January or February of the following year. After birth, the mother feeds the cubs milk produced from fat reserves for the remainder of the winter, while continuing to hibernate, allowing the very small cubs to maximize the period in which they can gain weight.

Black bears are habitat generalists with population density correlating directly with habitat quality. Mixed forests, with a variety of vegetation are preferred. Good quality bear habitat has good availability of food and adequate cover for defence and denning requirements. Black bears are primarily herbivores, but because they evolved from carnivores, they do not have the specialized digestive system of many herbivores. They compensate by eating large quantities. Their diet consists of green vegetation in the spring and early summer, ants and insect larvae in the summer and fruit, berries and nuts in the fall. Bears will supplement this diet with scavenging and hunting, primarily of ungulates and fish. Black bears are relatively tolerant of human activity in areas of land disturbed by resource development and human activity. This tolerance/habituation to humans increases the likelihood of human-bear conflict.


The black bear has a wide distribution covering most of northern North America. In Canada, bears have a distribution of approximately 5 956 200 km2 spread throughout 12 of 13 provinces and territories (95% of its original Canadian range). The black bear no longer exists in Prince Edward Island and in some areas of other jurisdictions that are intensively developed.

The distribution of black bears in Canada is widespread and contiguous in the majority of current habitat, but may be fragmented in habitat located in agricultural areas, or near urban environments. The subspecies Ursus americanus americanus occurs in all range jurisdictions. The subspecies U.a. atlifrontalis, carlottae, cinnamomum, kermodei, vancouverii, and emmonsii are also present in British Columbia. The subspecies U. a. emmonsii may also occur in the Yukon Territory. There is currently no widespread acute threat to the Canadian black bear populations. Some possible local threats include human-bear conflict and the degradation or loss of habitat.

Range jurisdictions consider the black bear population to be stable to increasing throughout Canada. The black bear population in Canada was estimated to be approximately 434 400 in 2001 (Hristienko, H & J. E. McDonald, 2007) and is being managed to maintain a stable population. In most Canadian jurisdictions, populations are estimated by extrapolating bear densities known to be associated with various habitat types to similar areas within the jurisdiction. This method, which has recently been verified in Ontario, provides a cost-effective population estimate suitable for management purposes given the large size and range of the black bear population. Scientific research in Ontario shows that the Ontario's new population estimate of 95 000 +/- 10 000 bears based on Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis of hair is consistent with their previous population estimate based on habitat type of 75 000 to 100 000 bears.

The General Status of black bear in Canada is Secure overall, and Secure in all Canadian jurisdictions except Prince Edward Island (Extirpated) and Nunavut (Sensitive).Prince Edward Island represents less that 0.1% of the historic range of the black bear and Nunavut represents the northern limit of the black bear range.

In 1992, the black bear was listed on Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II for similarity of appearance with other species due to enforcement concerns related to the illegal trade in bear parts (primarily gall bladders) of endangered bear species, particularly in Asia.In 1999, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the black bear as Not at Risk in Canada.

Harvest management

The confidence in the current Canadian harvest management system is high. Management of black bear harvest in Canada is conducted with the goal of long-term population sustainability, with increasing effort focused on mitigation of human-bear conflict and ensuring human safety. The black bear is harvested as both a game animal species (all range jurisdictions) and a furbearer species (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia) under the authorization of hunting/trapping permits or licences in accordance with their respective Wildlife Acts. The predominant method of harvest is hunting.The adaptive management framework for black bear is designed to provide the level of control necessary to maintain a sustainable harvest and healthy bear populations over the long term. Jurisdictional management strategies for black bear are reviewed annually, and adjusted as necessary.Through the recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty rights under the Canadian constitution, Aboriginal peoples may harvest wildlife for traditional use and in this case the harvest of black bear is low overall.

Policy and procedures are in place in all range jurisdictions to address animal control issues. Most jurisdictions operate Bear Awareness programs to educate the public about bear avoidance procedures to ensure public safety while minimizing the need for lethal control of bears.

Control of harvest

Black bear harvest is managed throughout Canada by a combination of regulatory controls such as establishment of harvest seasons, management zones, hunting methods, licensing requirements and bag limits. Although there may be some variation in management practices, in general, family units and bears in dens are protected, permits are required to retain the hunted animal after the hunting season, and non-resident hunters (including foreign residents and Canadian residents from other jurisdictions) may only hunt with a guide or an outfitter. Wildlife enforcement officers monitor regulatory compliance within each jurisdiction. Jurisdictions and local Aboriginal communities will collaborate when there is a conservation concern, and ensure that appropriate harvest management tools are applied.

Jurisdictions address the possession, sale or export of bears killed accidentally (usually by automobile traffic or train) or as a result of animal control through a variety of methods. Some jurisdictions prohibit subsequent trade of these animals through regulations or policy; others evaluate on a case by case basis and allow trade by issuance of a permit. Evidence suggests that any illegal killing of black bears is primarily related to animal control issues and is not believed to be a significant problem in the conservation of the species.

The majority of export of black bear from Canada is related to sport hunting (skins, rugs, taxidermy mounts or meat). Occasionally skins are sold and exported through auction houses. Guides, outfitters, fur traders, taxidermists, manufacturers and retailers are controlled under all jurisdictional Wildlife Acts. All are subject to operator licences, reporting procedures and/or inspections, ensuring that effective controls are in place to prevent the entry of illegally harvested bears into trade. Commercial trade in non-food products from subsistence hunting (mostly hides) is also controlled through this system, but such trade of black bear is low.

With respect to trade in gall bladders, all jurisdictions in Canada control the possession, sale or export, either by regulation or policy. Most jurisdictions prohibit their possession, sale or export.One jurisdiction allows commercial export of registered and marked gall bladders harvested by residents. Illegal trade in gall bladders in Canada is believed to be minor, and where it does occur, the source of the gall bladders is largely from legally harvested bears.

Overall, confidence in the Canadian harvest management system of black bear is high as these adaptive management systems are reactive to changing conditions, and allow for strict control of harvest if necessary to ensure sustainable harvest and maintain biodiversity.

Harvest trend

Until the 1970s, the black bear was considered a nuisance animal. Hunting was encouraged, often by the offering of bounties. Current management practices were established in the 1970s and 1980s. There are three main types of human-induced mortality of black bears, hunting/trapping, animal control and accidental deaths due primarily to road or train fatalities. Since the 1990s, total human-induced mortalities are believed to have remained stable, averaging 5 to 6.5% of the total population annually which is considered to be sustainable for this species.

Harvest monitoring

Through the issuance of licences and permits for the control of harvest, trade and movement of black bear, each jurisdiction collects information about black bears that can also be used for monitoring purposes. Jurisdictions monitor harvest results through a variety of methods including harvest questionnaires, compulsory inspections or reporting, mandatory proof of sex, or submission of biological samples to determine demographics of the harvested bears. Outfitters are controlled via the issuance of annual outfitter licences or distribution of individual hunting licences for non-resident hunters to outfitters upon reporting of the previous year's activities.

Trade of black bear is monitored through jurisdictional export permits, both within Canada and for international export. A CITES export permit is also required for international export of all bear trade except for hunting trophies imported into the United States by United States residents under the Personal and Household effects exemption, as implemented by Canadian law, when a fresh, frozen or salted bear, excluding organs, is transported in their personal baggage (Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of Interprovincial and International Trade Act). All other jurisdictional controls still apply.

Incentives and benefits of harvest

Effective management of furbearer species in Canada is an objective of both governments and harvesters. A sustainable long-term harvest is dependent on stable wildlife populations thereby promoting a stewardship attitude towards both the black bear and its habitat. Hunter, outfitter and trapper activities support rural economies and assist in managing the density and distribution of black bears, reducing human-bear conflict. Trade incentives are also important to engage local communities in sustainable harvest practices.

Protection from harvest

The adaptive management framework currently applied to wildlife harvest management programs in Canada is very effective at preventing over-harvest of wildlife as restrictive measures can be applied if necessary.In general, the species can be hunted in most of the species' occupied range but jurisdictions have the ability to close harvest seasons in up to 100% of this range to achieve specific conservation goals.Depending on the jurisdiction, the black bear range where there is no harvest varies from 0-15%. However, rather than simply focusing on protecting bears from harvest in specific areas, many Canadian jurisdictions apply over-arching management strategies that consider the total black bear range, critical parts of seasonal habitat, and habitat linkages. Land-use measures that benefit the long term survival of the species vary between 10-75% of occupied black bear range depending on the jurisdiction.

Jurisdictional Summary
Jurisdiction Species present Harvest occurring General Status 2010 Harvest Regulations
British Columbia Y Y 4 - Secure Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Management Branch
Alberta Y Y 4 - Secure Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
Saskatchewan Y Y 4 - Secure Ministry of Environment
Manitoba Y Y 4 - Secure Conservation and Water Stewardship
Ontario Y Y 4 - Secure Ministry of Natural Resources
Quebec Y Y 4 - Secure Natural Resources
New Brunswick Y Y 4 - Secure Natural Resources
Nova Scotia Y Y 4 - Secure Wildlife and Biodiversity
Prince Edward Island N N 0.1 - Extirpated Island Information
Newfoundland and Labrador Y Y 4 - Secure Department of Environment and Conservation
Nunavut Y Y 3-Sensitive Nunavut
Northwest Territories Y Y 4 - Secure Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Yukon Y Y 4 - Secure Environment Yukon
Canada     4 - Secure -

Additional information on Black bear in Canada:

Barachello, No 1999. Update COSEWICstatus report on the American black bear Ursus americanus in Canada in COSEWIC assessment and status report on the American black bear Ursus americanus in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa 1-57 pp.

Hristienko, H & J. E. McDonald, 2007. Going into the 21st Century: A perspective on trends and controversies in the management of the black bear. Ursus 18(1):72-88

Williamson, D. F.2002. In the Black: Status, Management, and Trade of the American Black bear (Ursus americanus) in North America. TRAFFIC North America. Washington District of Columbus (DC.): World Wildlife Fund.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada

General Status of Species in Canada

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