Ursus arctos stikeenensis

Brown bear fishing in the Skeena River. Photo courtesy Raincoast.org

Accepted scientific name: Ursus arctos stikeenensis (Clinton Hart Merriam, 1914); however many authorities recognise only two subspecies of brown bear in North America: the grizzly bear (U.a. horribilis) and the Kodiak bear (U.a. middendorffi).  This places these “Stickeen” brown bears in the subspecies U.a. Horribilis.

In 1918 Clinton Hart Merriam divided the North American brown bears into 86 subspecies based upon small physical differences, mainly relating to skull measurements.  Over time this list has been reduced but some experts believe that there is still sufficient evidence to warrant classifying five North American subspecies in addition to the widely accepted grizzly and Kodiak bear subspecies.  In this website we include those five subspecies; the Stickeen brown bear (U.a. stikeenensis) being one of them.  However, much of the following information, other than range, is similar or identical to that given on the pages for the Alaskan (U.a.alascensis), Dall (U.a. dalli), Peninsular (U.a. gyas), and Sitka (U.a. sitkensis) brown bears.

Description:  A large bear, most commonly dark brown in colour but can range from blonde through to black.  The often grizzled appearance is caused by the light coloured tips of the long guard hairs over the shoulders and back.  The bears have a distinctive hump on the shoulders and a slightly dished profile to the face.  The front claws are noticeably long.  There is considerable variation in size depending upon the food available.  Adult males typically weigh 135 to 390 kg, females 95 to 205 kg.  Adults are usually between 90 and 110 cm at the shoulder.  Bears from the interior are around two-thirds the size of the coastal and island brown bears of Alaska and British Columbia.

Range:  Northwestern mainland of Canada, in an inland area of British Columbia comprising the Skeena River, the head of Finlay River and the Dease Lake region up into the Yukon Territory (see map).

Map: Approximate range of Stickeen brown bear outlined in red (GIS data-Qyd / Bear Conservation) (Click on map for larger version)

Habitat:  Forests in remote mountainous regions and in river valleys and lake basins.

Status:  Brown bears are listed as “of least concern” by the IUCN and listed in CITES Appendix II.  There are around 16,000 brown bears in total in Canada, less than 1,500 of which are located in the central and north coast areas of British Columbia.

Life span:  Around 20 to 30 years in the wild.

Food:  The bears are omnivorous and eat plants, grasses, sedges, roots, tubers, seeds, berries, salmon, small mammals and carrion.  They will also predate upon moose and caribou, particularly newborn animals.

Behaviour:  The bears reach sexual maturity between the ages of four and seven years.  Mating occurs between May and July.  The bears go into winter dens usually in October or November and emerge in April, May or June.  Cubs are born in the den in January and February, litters usually being of two or three cubs but can be of one or four.  They will remain with the mother for two to three years during which time she will not become pregnant again.  Except for mating and for mothers with cubs, grizzly bears are solitary although they will congregate in groups where there are plentiful sources of food, such as spawning salmon.

Threats:  There is some risk of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and the resultant conflicts with humans.  Poaching including for body parts to be used in medicine seems to be an increasing threat for all bears although the relative isolation of these bears may afford them some protection from this.  Hunting needs to be controlled and based upon reliable population estimates.  It seems likely that these bears are or will soon be affected by climate change either directly or indirectly as habitat and food sources change or disappear.

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Page created 18 August 2017

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