Black Bears

The map shows the distribution of black bears in Alberta during the early 1990s; the current range encompasses some 488 000 km² or about 74 percent of the province.

Recently, several sightings were reported near the city of Edmonton and other locations in central Alberta, suggesting that this species is extending its range somewhat into former habitats.

The dynamics of black bear populations were investigated in several areas during the 1970's and 80's. These studies (locations shown on map; details in table) revealed a wide range of densities in different biogeographical zones, related to

  • habitat values
  • forest succession
  • human development, as well as past levels of human use or control

Densities (bears/1000 km²) varied from 370 at Cold Lake (a relatively high density) to 8 at Banff National Park (a very low density).

Bear Density (bears/1,000 km²)

Map of Alberta showing grizzly bears inhabiting the west, black bears inhabiting the north east and no bears in the south
(historical estimates - 1970 and 1980s)
Black Bear Grizzly Bear
Cold 370 Waterton 48
Fort Hills 333 Kananaskis 14
Sheep River 233 Jasper 11
Swan Hills 18* Swan Hills 8
Berland 9* South Wapiti 7
Banff 8 Berland 5
* Densities were probably greater than observed because trap sites were in grizzly habitat.

Such estimates were derived by monitoring several bears in each area with the use of radio telemetry.

Ranges occupied by adult female black bears are generally quite mutually exclusive; that is, there is usually a minimum of overlap between ranges of individual females. Thus, the known range size of adult female bears provides a useful index to regional bear populations (when female ranges are small, densities are greater; when large, densities are lesser).

Data from the Cold Lake study, conducted by Gerry Kemp of Alberta Fish and Wildlife and Barry Young and Bob Ruff of the University of Wisconsin, indicated a high black bear population in excellent habitat (average female range =20 km²). This contrasts with a study in the Swan Hills following a period of active oil/gas exploration and development and known shootings of bears in the 1970's. John Nagy of the Canadian Wildlife Service reported large female ranges, a sign of low density.

In 1993, Alberta's total black bear population was estimated on the basis of landsat satellite imagery (forest cover, land disturbance), and estimated average bear densities from study areas.

The results provided a total of 36 000 bears (provincial lands) and 40 000 bears (all of Alberta). Calculated average density was 84 bears per 1000 km².

The Status of Alberta Wildlife lists black bears as a "green" species, which means it is "not at risk."

The Black Bear Response Guide was developed to help government officials take effective, consistent action when human-bear conflict occurs.

To read the guide, see:


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Updated: Nov 8, 2017