The American Black Bear is a widely distributed North American mammal that holds spiritual significance for many different cultures. There are 16 subspecies of Ursus americanus and the total population in North America is thought to be between 600,00 and 900,000 bears, depending on your source. It is also believed that approximately 300,000 of those black bears reside within the United States borders.
Different states in the U.S. contain varying populations of Black Bears while some states, like the ones listed below, don’t have breeding populations of Black Bears at all. Which brings us to the topic of this article, the U.S. states with Black Bear populations. In addition we’ll take a deeper dive and look at the estimated populations and ranges by state including what regions in these states they are more commonly seen.
U.S. states with Black Bear populations
Below I’ll give you some info about the Black Bear populations in each U.S. state. We’ll talk about the populations that are estimated in each state as well as where they can be found and any interesting reports of and facts about Black Bears that are specific to the particular state.
First let’s omit some states from the list. The following 9 states currently do not have breeding populations of Black Bears, but they may have sightings from time to time. The Black Bear population is growing and expanding in the U.S. which means that there’s always a possibility of bears moving in from neighboring states, then breeding.
However at the time of writing this, there is believed to be a breeding Black Bear population in 41 of the 50 U.S. states.
9 U.S. states that do not have Black Bear populations:
- Delaware – Extirpated.
- Hawaii – There are no bears in the state of Hawaii.
- Illinois – There is no known Black Bear population in the state of Illinois.
- Indiana – No breeding populations, some reports of sightings
- Iowa – No breeding populations, occasional rare sightings
- Kansas – No breeding populations of Black Bears, common sightings.
- Nebraska – No established population, but some sightings in recent years.
- North Dakota – Some sightings, no known breeding population.
- South Dakota – Black Bears are not native to the state, occasional sightings in western parts of SD.
Black Bear population in 41 U.S. states
The following population estimates were taken from state government websites and other authoritative sources. They are accurate to the best of my knowledge.
|State Name||Black Bear Population|
|Rhode Island||5-10 (new population)|
|South Dakota||Low/rare sightings|
Black Bears are found in small areas of both the Northeast Alabama and Southwest Alabama, but there are thought to be an estimated 200 bears in the entire state of Alabama. The bears in the Northeastern part of the state having only shown up in recent years and have moved into the state from Northwest Georgia. Indications are that the Black Bear population in Alabama is slowly increasing.
Alaska has a larger population of Black Bears than any other U.S. state by far with an estimated 100,000 or more. They are widely distributed throughout Alaska’s forests. Others bears found in Alaska are Brown Bears and Polar Bears. See a range map for black bears in Alaska here.
The only species of bear found in Arizona is the Black Bear. There is a population of about 3,000 bears in the state and they can be found primarily in wooded areas and coniferous forests. The conflict between humans is very low in the state with just 11 recorded bear attacks in Arizona since 1996.
According to Only In Arkansas, you can find Black Bears in Arkansas in three places; the Ozark Highlands area, the Ouachita National Forest, and the lower White River basin. Pre-settlement there was thought to be over 50,000 bears in Arkansas, but then numbers dwindled down to just 50 bears in the 1930s. Thanks to conservation efforts and the importation of Black Bears from other areas, Arkansas is believed to have over 5,000 Black Bears now.
California is thought to have the largest Black Bear population in the lower 48 states with an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 bears that occupy 52,000 square miles of land. Black Bears were classified as game mammals in the state in 1948 and even though they are hunted by humans, their population continues to thrive due to restrictive regulations and laws. Black Bears are less common in Southern California, although they have been seen further south in recent decades.
There were once Grizzly Bears living in Colorado but now Black Bears are the only species living in the state. An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Black Bears live in Colorado and are found mostly in Central and Western Colorado. They are commonly seen in mountainous and forested regions west of Denver such as Forest State Park. Black Bears in Colorado are often blonde, cinnamon or brown in color.
Black Bears are found throughout most of Connecticut. According to ct.gov, in 2019 there were approximately 7,300 bear sightings in 150 of Connecticut’s 169 towns. The state is believed to have an estimated total Black Bear population of around 800 to 1,000 bears and growing with the most bears per square mile in the northwest part of the state.
The Florida Black Bear (Ursus americanus floridanus), is a subspecies of the American black Bear (Ursus americanus). Black Bears were once very widespread throughout Florida and even into the northern Florida Keys. Then in the 70s, Florida Black Bears were almost eradicated from the state entirely. Now there are over 4,000 bears in the state and growing.
Black Bears in Georgia are either found in the far northern or southern parts of the state with some pockets in Central Georgia. Look for them in swamplands and forested areas such as Okefenokee Swamp and the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 bears in the state.
Idaho has a growing population of Black Bears with as many as 30,000 in the state and growing by 15% each year. Idaho’s mountainous and forested regions make a wonderful home for these animals. With this growth, humans and bears have had more and more interactions which can cause problems.
Kentucky has an estimated 1,000 Black Bears living in the state, with a growing population. The majority of the population in the state is in Eastern and Southeastern Kentucky, along the Southern Appalachian Mountains bordering West Virginia and Virginia.
Louisiana is home to the Louisiana Black Bear (Ursus americanus luteolus), which is a subspecies of of the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus). There’s an estimated 750-1000 bears living in the state, but they can also be found in the neighboring states of Texas, Mississippi, and possibly even Southern Arkansas.
Maine has a larger population of Black Bears than any other New England state by far with an estimated 24,000 to 36,000 bears living in the state. The growing bear population has been closely monitored in Maine for many years. Human and bear interaction was a problem but has lessened over the years. The Main.gov website has some good tips for preventing conflicts with Black Bears.
In 2000 a study was to conducted to determine the Black Bear population in Maryland it was then believed that there were approximately 266 to 437 bears living in the state. According to Maryland.gov we know that Black Bears are found mainly in Garrett, Allegany, Washington, and Fredrick counties within Maine. It’s unclear exactly how many Black Bears live in Maryland today, but some sources estimate more than 2,000 bears.
There are an estimated 4,500 bears in Massachusetts mainly living in Western and Central Massachusetts but their range is expanding to the east. “Massachusetts Black bears live and breed in Worcester County, northern Middlesex County, and west to the Berkshires.” – mass.gov
According to Michigan.gov, there are between 15,000 and 19,000 Black Bears living in Michigan today. About 90% of those bears reside in the Upper Peninsula and the remaining 10% live in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The bears in Michigan are protected by law and the population is managed by The Department of Natural Resources, hunting is allowed with the proper license.
There are an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Black Bears in Minnesota today, which is sharply down from 25,000 in 2002. The population is managed by the DNR in Minnesota and the reduction in population was due to hunting. They now plan to let the bear population grow again, Dave Garshelis with the DNA is quoted as saying “A population of about 25,000 is a rough, short-term, but not official, goal.” source
Mississippi’s Black Bear population is thought to be between 100 and 150 bears. In 2002, experts began taking a closer look at the black bears in Mississippi and at that time there were believed to be less than 50 bears in the state. Due to the addition of several females, the population has been growing and has almost tripled as of 2020. There are 2 subspecies in the state, both the American Black Bear and the Louisiana Black Bear.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation there are an estimated 540-840 Black Bears in the state of Missouri. The majority of the bear population is in Southern Missouri, south of the Missouri River. Both the population and range of Black Bears in Missouri is believed to be growing. Hunting is legal in the state and is used by the MDC to control the population.
Black Bears are primarily found in the northwestern mountains of Montana, but also in areas of Southern and Western Montana. The last official population estimate I could find was from 2011 and said there were an estimated 13,307 bears in the Montana. Black Bear populations are believed to have been growing in recent years so it’s possible that population is 15,000 or more now.
There are an estimated 300-500 Black Bears in the state of Nevada, and just 80 years ago they had been extirpated from the state entirely. The majority of the Black Bear population in Nevada is found in the mountains in far Western Nevada. The bears are expanding their population east further into Nevada from the Sierra Nevada mountains along the California border.
22. New Hampshire
Having grown in recent years, the Black Bear population in New Hampshire is estimated to be 6,100 currently. The population is stable and growing modestly with the bears begin found throughout the entire state. New Hampshire is the fifth smallest state in the country so this is a fairly dense population for such large mammals. Hunting is used as a means to help control the bear population.
23. New Jersey
According to New Jersey Environmental Protection there are an estimated 2,500-2,800 in Northwest New Jersey alone with another 2,000 or so spread across the rest of the state. The bear population in New Jersey has been growing steadily and expanding south since 1980. Black Bears are a vital part of the ecosystem in the state, but the population must be managed to reduce the risk of human and bear conflicts.
24. New Mexico
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish estimates that there are approximately 5,000-6,000 Black Bears living in all 14.6 million forested acres of New Mexico. There have been strict hunting regulations in place since 1927 in the state to help control the population of Black Bears in the state. In the early 20th century Grizzly Bears were common in the state, but now only the American Black Bear remains who is also the state animal of New Mexico.
25. New York
It’s believed that 50-60% of the 6,000 to 8,000 Black Bears in New York State inhabit the Adirondack region with 30-35% inhabiting the Catskill region, and the remaining 10-15% inhabiting the central-western region. All of these areas are open to hunting New York’s growing Black Bear population with the proper licenses.
26. North Carolina
There were thought to be only about 2,000 Black Bears left in North Carolina in the 1980s. But in the last 30 years that population has 10x’d, with the latest estimates being at 20,000 or more in the state today. The majority of these bears are found either in the far western or far eastern parts of the state with few bears living in Central North Carolina.
Black Bears were thought to have been completely extirpated from Ohio in the 1850s, but have begun making a comeback in recent years. With increased sightings and new estimates, experts think that Ohio has somewhere between 50 and 100 Black Bears and growing in the state today. According to the Ohio Wildlife Center, the most likely areas to see Black Bears in Ohio today are in Northeast Ohio (Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Trumbull, and Tuscarawas counties) and Southeast Ohio (Washington, Athens, Hocking, and Vinton counties).
Black Bears disappeared in Oklahoma sometime in the early 1900s. At some point in the 1990s though, they started making their way back into the state from Arkansas. There are now two distinct populations of Black Bears in Oklahoma, one in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, and one in the Ozarks region of east-central Oklahoma. There are believed to be 2,000 or more bears in Oklahoma today.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife tells us that there are between 25,000 and 30,000 Black Bears living in Oregon today, giving it one of the largest bear populations in the United States today. Black Bears in Oregon are found in the Cascade Range and west to the Pacific Ocean, and in the Blue and Wallowa mountains of Northeast Oregon. They are largely absent or scarce in central and southeastern parts of the state.
There is potential for Black Bears in any forested area in the state of Pennsylvania, as there have been bear sightings in every county in the state. Although there is believed to be breeding populations in only about 3/4 of the state. One place that you can see Black Bears in Pennsylvania is Sinnemahoning State Park.
31. Rhode Island
The Black Bears of Rhode Island were completely gone not that long ago, however they have been making their way back into the state from neighboring Connecticut. Now there are believed to be at least 5-10 adult bears that are breeding and repopulating certain areas of the state like Providence County, Washington County and Kent County where the majority of bear sightings in the state occur.
32. South Carolina
There are an estimated 900 Black Bears in the state of South Carolina. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, “The mountain black bear population of South Carolina is located primarily in Oconee, Pickens, Greenville and Spartanburg Counties; the coastal population is found in Georgetown and Horry Counties”. Sightings have occurred in most counties in the state but the densest populations are in the northwest and far east, however they are expanding.
The state of Tennessee has two main Black Bear populations; the Appalachian Population, and the Cumberland Population. There are believed to be around 7,000 bears in the state of Tennessee and the population is expanding and growing. The eastern population is into the mountainous regions of the Smoky Mountains and the cumberland population is shared with Kentucky to the north. I live in Middle Tennessee and there have been more and more bear sightings every year.
Louisiana Black Bear sightings have been increasing in recent years so it’s possible they are making a comeback in Eastern Texas. In the Big Bend area of Western Texas there are thought to be at least 30-40 breeding bears, so the Black Bear population in Texas is low either way. Aside from the Louisiana Bear, both the Mexican Black Bear (Ursus americanus eremicus) and the New Mexico Black Bear (subspecies U. a. amblyceps) are found in western Texas in low numbers and are also on the state endangered species list.
There are over 4,000 Black Bears living in the forests and mountains of Utah. The bears have a pretty widespread range in Utah and the population has been steadily growing over the decades. There were only about 1300 bears in the state in 2000, so it has more than tripled in the last 20 years or so. The state has been issuing more hunting licenses in recent years to keep up with hunter demand and to help control the population.
Thanks to biologists closely monitoring the population and conservation efforts, there are more Black Bears living in Vermont today than there have been for over 200 years. The latest estimate is that between 4,600 and 5,700 bears (but as many as 6,000 is possible) are living in Vermont today. Primarily along the Green Mountains that run through Central Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada, and in Northeastern Vermont.
While there are some conflicting reports of the Black Bear population in Virginia, one thing is for sure, bears occupy almost every part of the state. This article from 2015 by the Roanoke Times quotes a wildlife biologist with the DGIF as saying there are as many as 17,000 Black Bears in Virginia, however the National Park Service suggests there are closer to 5,000 or 6,000. Who to believe? I’m not sure honestly, let me know in the comments if you do.
As with other U.S. states, Black Bears are common to all forested areas in Washington outside of the Columbia basin. You may have noticed a trend with Pacific Northwest states when it comes to Black Bears, they have a lot of them. There are thought to be 25,000 to 30,000 bears in the state of Washington with the strongest populations being in western and northern parts of the state.
39. West Virginia
Black Bears in West Virginia were once concentrated to the National Forests of Eastern West Virginia, such as Monongahela National Forest, but have since spread throughout the state and have a population of 8,000 or more. The Black Bear is the official state animal of West Virginia and today can be found in all 55 counties in the state.
Wisconsin has a growing Black Bear population of between 24,000 and 31,000 animals, mainly in the northern third of the state. However the bears appear to be expanding their range southward as there have been more sightings in Southern Wisconsin in recent years, mainly in Dane, Sauk, Iowa and Grant counties.
As far as I can determine there is no estimated population in Wyoming, we only know that there is a robust and healthy population of Black Bears in the state. The state of Wyoming is also home to around 800 Grizzly Bears, which are more closely monitored. However, several sources have reported that Wyoming state officials plan to begin surveying the Black Bears within the state to get a better idea of the population.
A quick look at Black Bears
Black Bears are highly intelligent mammals that have shown problem solving skills. They are adept swimmers and excellent hunters. The number one predator of Black Bears are humans. At one point their population was on a steep decline in many areas due to hunting and loss of habitat, but now they are making a comeback and populations are increasing thanks to new laws, healthier forests, and stricter regulations.
The American Black Bear is the smallest species of bear in North America, but they still weigh on average between 200 and 400 lbs, occasionally reaching 500 lbs or more. They will also reach 4 to 7 feet in length. Black Bears are still the largest carnivorous animals in most U.S. states.
While they are classified as carnivores, Black Bears are actually omnivorous and considered opportunistic eaters. Nuts, berries, and other plants are their preferred foods and make up about 90% of their diets.
They will also readily feed on insects, fish, small mammals, carrion, and we are all aware of how they have a habit of digging through trash cans and dumpsters scrounging for food.
One thing we know for certain, bears can eat a lot. During the spring and summer bears will eat a minimum of 5k calories daily, but during the fall when they are fattening up for hibernation they can eat 3-4 times that much without a problem. Black Bears typically spend the majority of their days foraging for food.
Black Bears prefer living in forests and mountainous areas where there is an abundant source of food, water, and shelter. Human populations are expanding into bear territories causing more and more bear and human interactions.
Mating season for Black Bears usually starts in late May and ends in early July, however depending on the geographic location it may extend into August. Females will give birth to 1-3 bear cubs sometime in January or February.
Black Bear cubs will stay with their mothers for up to 2 years in some cases while they learn the skills they need to survive on their own.
Black Bears are not true hibernators, but rather go into torpor. The length of their “hibernation” and how deep of a sleep they go into varies. In warmer climates bears don’t need to hibernate for as long since the length of their slumber all depends on food availability. If food is readily available all year, Black Bears may not hibernate at all in some places.
They can cut their metabolic rates down by half while hibernating, so all that extra food they ate prior can last them throughout the cold months when food is scarce.
The American Black Bear and all its subspecies are common and pretty widespread throughout much of North America, as you can see from the range map above, which is also the only continent that you can find Ursus americanus.
Subspecies of Black Bears
According to bear.org there are 16 subspecies of the American Black Bear, they are as follows:
- Ursus americanus altifrontalis (U.S. Pacific Northwest)
- Ursus americanus amblyceps (Southwestern U.S.)
- Ursus americanus americanus (widespread from Alaska to the Atlantic)
- Ursus americanus californiensis (interior California)
- Ursus americanus carlottae (Queen Charlotte islands of British Columbia)
- Ursus americanus cinnamomum (the cinnamon bear; WY, eastern CO, ID, western MT, southwestern Alberta, southeastern BC)
- Ursus americanus emmonsii (the glacier bear; Alaska coast from Glacier Bay to Prince William Sound and adjacent inland area)
- Ursus americanus eremicus (northeastern Mexico, Big Bend area of Texas)
- Ursus americanus floridanus (FL, southern GA, southern AL)
- Ursus americanus hamiltoni (Newfoundland)
- Ursus americanus kermodei (the Kermode bear; coastal BC from Prince Rupert to Princess Royale Island, and adjacent inland BC)
- Ursus americanus luteolus (southern LA, and southern MS)
- Ursus americanus machetes (northwestern Mexico)
- Ursus americanus perniger (Kenai Peninsula of AK)
- Ursus americanus pugnax (southeastern Alaska)
- Ursus americanus vancouveri (Vancouver Island)
Tips to keep Black Bear away
If you live in an area of the country where bear encounters are common, you may want to consider using some or all of the following tips to keep bears away.
- Keep bird feeders high off the ground and bring them in during bear season, from April to December.
- Do not feed pets outside or store any pet or livestock food outside.
- Thoroughly clean BBQ grills, drippings and leftover food materials can attract bears.
- Set up motion detecting sprinklers or lights, these scare tactics may help deter bears.
- Use heavy shutters on your house. In the case that you aren’t home and a bear wants in your house, don’t make it easy.
- Keep all trash containers emptied and secured. This should be obvious, bears are known for digging through trash.
- Install electric fencing around the yard or even just your vegetable garden.
- Block access to basements or crawl spaces. These are places that Black Bears can attempt to hibernate.
- Enclose your compost pile. Like in a trash can, there are loads of calories here that a Black Bear would love.
- Cover your swimming pool. Don’t forget to empty kiddie pools too. Bears have been known to take leisurely swims in pools.
If you encounter a Black Bear
Black Bears are typically very skittish and afraid of humans so chances are he will run away. If you should have an encounter with a Black Bear, don’t freak out though. The idea is to make yourself known to the bear so that you don’t surprise him. Frighten him with loud noises and get him to run off.
Here are some quick tips for bear encounters.
- Face the bear, do not run.
- Remain calm and alert the bear to your presence by making loud noises.
- Make yourself look as big as possible by waving your arms.
- Slowly begin to back away from the bear.
- Use bear spray (if you have any) if it approaches too close.
- In the rare case of an attack, you should fight back and never play dead.
- After the bear leaves, remove whatever attracted him.
- You may report the encounter to your state wildlife agency.
Learn what to do if a black bear comes to your yard here.