Black bear in Olympic National Park, Washington, USA (NPS / Carmen Bubar)

Accepted scientific name:  Ursus americanus altifrontalis (Elliot, 1903)

Description:  Medium sized black bear; larger than the adjoining populations of California black bear and Cinnamon black bear.

Range:  North American Pacific northwest coast from central British Columbia southwards to northern California and inland to the tip of northern Idaho and British Columbia.  In Oregon and California found only to the west of the Cascade Range, this subspecies of black bear is thought to be geographically separated from the California black bear (Ursus americanus californiensis) by the crest of the Klamath Mountains in the north of California.

 Map showing the approximate range of the Olympic black bear (USDA Forest Service / Bear Conservation)

Habitat:  Predominantly forested areas and meadows; often close by water.

Status:  Population is probably stable throughout the range.

Life span:  In the wild average around 18 years but probably individuals up to 30 years.

Food:  Like all black bears,the Olympic black bear is an omnivore but is mainly herbivorous in habit.  In spring the bears feed mainly on grasses and herbaceous flowering plants (forbs), in summer on berries and fruits (including windfalls) and nuts, in autumn on nuts, manzanita berries, and voraciously on acorns.  In summer and autumn fish are eaten and the bears will feed on carrion, including livestock, when available and also insects and their larvae (often in dead wood in logged areas).

Behaviour:  During the spring and summer the bears are most active during daylight and around dawn and dusk.  As winter approaches they become more nocturnal in their habits.  Breeding usually begins when females reach between three and five years of age.  Normally litters are of two or three cubs but first litters are often of a single cub only. Mating typically occurs during July with the cubs being born in the winter den in the last week of January or the first two weeks of February.  Dens are usually under stumps and logs or in hollows or excavated holes in hillsides.  They have also been made in hollow trees, caves, drainage culverts and abandoned buildings.

Threats:  These bears are adversely effected by habitat loss and conflict with humans, hunting and climate change.


Bear hunting in California: the end of an era (Guardian newspaper, December 2012).

Animal Ceremonialism in Central California in the light of Archaeology (American Anthropologist, 1940).

Page updated 24 August 2017