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Are Brown Bears Native to North America?

Bears are fascinating creatures, and among the eight species of bears, brown bears hold a special allure, especially since they are often found in North America.

Three subspecies of brown bears are native to North America: the grizzly bear, the California Grizzly, and the Kodiak bear. Brown bears also inhabit regions in Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. But how did brown bears come to America?

Research indicates that brown bears vanished from some parts of North America for thousands of years before the last Ice Age. Subsequently, they reappeared by walking from Siberia to Alaska across the Bering Land Bridge. The reasons behind their initial disappearance remain uncertain, although changes in vegetation are considered a possible factor.

Evidence points to bear extinction from Alaska and the Yukon Territory coinciding with widespread vegetation changes in the region. Warm temperatures before the Ice Age could have influenced the abundance of different plant species, which in turn affected herbivores and their predators, including bears. Subsequently, colder temperatures before the Ice Age might have reversed these changes, creating more favorable conditions for herbivores and their predators.

Once common throughout North America, the population of brown bears has significantly diminished over time. Currently, there are fewer than 2,000 bears remaining in the contiguous United States, with sightings possible in Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming. However, Alaska is home to a much larger population, boasting approximately 30,000 bears. Spring and summer offer the best opportunities for bear sightings in Alaska. Additionally, Canada and Russia also have substantial brown bear populations.

Grizzly bears, the largest species of brown bears, are most commonly found in higher elevations, residing in slopes, avalanche chutes, and wetlands. Interestingly, bears found inland are referred to as grizzlies, while those along the coast are known as brown bears.

California’s State Animal, the California grizzly bear, was designated as such in 1953. Unfortunately, human interference led to their extinction in the state, primarily during the Gold Rush era. By August 1922, settlers had tracked down and killed all the grizzly bears in California, leading to their disappearance for over a century.

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Brown bears, once more widespread in America, are now less common. However, depending on your location, you may still have the chance to see them in their natural habitat. If you’re visiting Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park, be sure to make a stop at Yellowstone Bear World, a captivating drive-thru wildlife park. Experience the awe-inspiring sight of black bears and brown bears, including grizzly bears, as well as other captivating wildlife. To learn more about Yellowstone Bear World, contact us online or call (208) 359-9688.

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