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Grizzly Bear

Ursus arctos horribilis

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The Grizzly Bear is a subspecies of the Brown Bear. Identifiable by the distinctive hump at its shoulder area, it is one of the largest apex predators in North America. Despite a fearsome reputation in popular culture, the bears mostly feed on nuts, fruits, leaves and roots. They will sometimes hunt other mammals from rabbits to moose, and are well known for their fishing skills.

Their fur can range in color from blond to almost black. Typically, Grizzlies have dark-colored hair with light ends, making their fur appear frosted or “grizzled.” It is believed that the Grizzly is descended from species common to eastern Asia (modern day Russia) that migrated into North America about 50,000 years ago over the Bering Land Bridge. The bear’s heavy coat and omnivorous appetite made it well suited to the cold weather and limited food sources and it quickly expanded south.

The Grizzly Bear played an important role in Native American culture and lore all over the continent. Admired for its strength, speed and complex social behaviors, its image was often replicated in native art and craft as a symbol of strength. The bear was also hunted by Native Americans for food. Its hide was used for clothing and teeth and claws as ornamentation. In some Native American belief systems, wearing a bear tooth or claw was thought to provide magical protection from harm.

Range and Habitat

Historically, the bear could be found as far east as the Hudson Valley and as far south as Mexico. Today, the bear is found only in isolated areas of North America. In the United States, the best known populations are in Alaska, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and Idaho.

Conservation Status

Endangered. Although Grizzly Bears did once live in Oregon, mostly in the Cascades and other major mountain ranges, hunting and habitat loss led to their extinction in the state in the mid-twentieth century.

Today, it is estimated that only about 1,000 individual Grizzly Bears still exist in the United States. The killing of Grizzly Bears in the lower forty-eight states is prohibited by Federal and State regulations and can result in both criminal and civil penalties.