Black bears are usually less aggressive towards humans and more tolerant compared to other bear species. However, they can kill when provoked or as a self-defense mechanism.
This is attributed to the fact that they live near human communities. They’re present in nearly every US state—41 out of 50 states.
Black bear population by state ranges from as many as 100,000 bears in Alaska to as few as 50 to 100 in Ohio. Texas and Rhode Island have no confirmed estimates but have reported sightings. There are no black bears in 9 states, including Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
This article will tackle everything you need to know about black bear populations in each US State, their history, present condition, and why there aren’t any bears in some states.
Table of Contents
Black Bear | Identification
Although they may live near human settlements, black bears are wild animals that live in forests or terrains with thick vegetation, that’s virtually inaccessible to humans. The total population of black bears in the US ranges from 600,000 to 900,000.
- Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
- Appearance: Usually have black or brown fur, pale muzzles, stocky builds, and long furred ears. They sometimes have a white patch or spot on their chests.
- Color: Black, brown, tan, bluish gray, white
- Skull Length: 23.5 to 35 centimeters
- Lifespan: 10 to 30 years (wild)
- Size: 1.2 to 2 meters
- Weight: 39 to 80 kilograms (females), 59 to 400 kilograms (males)
- Diet: Acorns, fruits, grasses, mice and voles, insects, grain, and deer fawns.
- Place Of Origin: North America
- Characteristics: Great climbers and swimmers with nearsighted vision but are comparable to human vision. Black bears use their sense of smell primarily and hibernate during the winter.
Black Bear Population by State
Population: 100 to 200 black bears
Black bears in Alabama are estimated to be around 100 to 200 individuals. Alabama recognized the black bear as its official state mammal in 2006.
They’re historically native to the state but have been nearly extirpated due to habitat degradation, overharvesting, illegal killing, and vehicular accidents. However, black bears have begun naturally going back to bear colonies in Northern Alabama.
State conservation efforts include extensive research on the population dynamics of black bears, while recent news announces the birth of cubs in Dekalb County.
Population: 100,000 black bears
An estimated population of 100,000 bears inhabits Alaska, where a majority of about 8,300 to 16,000 bears live in portions of the Nowitna, Kuskokwim, Yukon River, and Innoko drainages based on the latest 2007 statistics.
Hunting black bears are legal in the state, but licenses are required. Harvesters use black bears for their food and fur.
Bluish gray black bears, referred to as glacier bears, have a rare color morph. They’re found in Southeast Alaska, where they live in habitats that have glaciers, rugged mountains, and marine fjords.
Population: 2,500 to 3,500 black bears
Recent estimates of the state’s black bear population are around 2,000 to 2,500 individuals. A 2010 study claims the maximum number of black bears is 3,500.
Black bears in Arizona occupy woodland habitats and coniferous forests. Human-bear interactions in the state are common as residents unintentionally create conflicts with them by constructing buildings near their habitats and providing them with food.
Bears have been inhabiting the state as early as the 1920s. They were categorized as predatory animals giving citizens free reign to shoot or trap them. However, they’re now classified as “big game” and hunters are required to submit harvests through the state for physical inspection.
Population: 6,000 black bears
Arkansas experienced a major dwindling in the bear population in the early 1930s—just 50 individuals. The state decided to import bears from Minnesota and Manitoba, and Canada. Since then, their population has flourished to nearly 6,000 black bears as of recent estimates.
Black bears are considered esteemed game animals in the state, with about 200 legal harvests made per year. They live in the oak-hickory forests of the Interior Highlands in Arizona.
Recent sightings have been increasing, especially of the younger bears who stray into neighborhoods looking for food.
Population: 30,000 to 30,000 black bears
There is a 30,000 to 40,000 statewide population of black bears in California. It has significantly increased since 1982 when there were an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 bears.
Black bears in California inhabit forests and wooded mountains but are now increasingly wandering into human communities. In fact, sightings are common in Solano County since bears have habitats that surround the area.
Officials don’t meddle with bears, even those that are wandering unless they threaten the safety of citizens.
Population: 17,000 to 20,000 black bears
There is an estimated distribution of 17,000 to 20,000 black bears in the state, and 75% of these individuals have fur that is varying shades of brown.
Their habitats are mostly located in forested areas and cottonwood groves across Colorado, but they are also seen in the State Forest State Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Residents experience frequent bear sightings, with 1,809 statewide encounters reported in 2020 alone wherein Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials had to euthanize bears displaying aggressive behavior.
Population: 1,200 black bears
Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection records an estimated population of 300 to 500 black bears in the state in 2009, with a rate of increase of around 10 to 20% annually. True enough, recent estimates now count 1,000 to 1,200 individuals.
Bear sightings reach more than a thousand a year statewide. In fact, there have been 7,300 bear sightings in 2019 from 159 towns.
The population of black bears in Connecticut is projected to steadily increase in the succeeding years. Most of them will live in habitats near human settlements and even forage throughout these areas.
Population: 4,050 black bears
While there isn’t an established estimation of the number of black bears in the state, biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimate a population of 4,050 bears.
Black bears have inhabited the state for thousands of years and have even reached 11,000 in population before European settlement. However, due to deforestation and commercial developments, this number has since decreased significantly.
Their habitats in Florida are fragmented and include flatwoods, bayheads, hammock habitats, and scrub oak ridges.
Population: 4,050 black bears
Illegal hunting and harvesting, as well as habitat loss, have nearly rendered black bears in Georgia extinct. But thanks to conservation efforts and robust wildlife management strategies, the current population of black bears in the state is estimated at 4,050.
Black bears may only be harvested legally during the fall when it’s hunting season in the state. Otherwise, it will be considered poaching when done in other months.
Bear populations in the Southern Appalachians, along the Ocmulgee River drainage, and around the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia are believed to have stable or slightly increasing bear populations, according to a 2009 study.
Population: 20,000 to 30,000 black bears
Occupying the foothills and forests of the state, the black bear population has reached around 20,000 to 30,000 individuals. It is projected to grow continuously by 15% in the next 10 years, with human-bear interactions increasing as well.
Black bear hunting starts as early as in the spring, around April in the state, but you’d need a hunting license issued for the year you’re hunting, as well as a bear tag.
Population: 400 to 500 black bears
According to a biologist from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, there is an estimated population of 400 to 500 black bears in Eastern and Southern Kentucky, bringing the total statewide population to about less than 1,000.
The first recorded sighting in the state was located in Knott County in 1985, and the black bear population of Kentucky has significantly grown.
Together with strict laws establishing a one bear per hunter per year rule and a relatively short bear-hunting season occurring in October and December, bear populations are expected to continuously expand.
Population: 150 black bears
Black bears were categorized as threatened species in 1992, with only 150 individuals due to habitat degradation or modification and excessive killing. It has been removed from the list in 2016 since it now has a total of 500 to 750 bears distributed across the state.
Conservation efforts include restoring 215,000 acres of habitat areas for the bears. Black bears are known to occupy forested wetlands and upland areas in Louisiana. They’re also sighted in residential areas.
It is currently illegal to hunt black bears in this state as they continue to be federally protected by state laws.
Population: 24,000 to 36,000 black bears
Remaining relatively stable since 2005, the estimated population of black bears in Maine is 24,000 to 36,000. Bear habitat in the state reached 69,050 square miles consisting of conifer-deciduous forests.
Black bears in this state are the most active between April and November and were even reported to have conflicts with humans.
Interested hunters require permission from Maine’s Wildlife Management Area before the hunting season, which starts in early August and lasts up to November.
Population: 2,000 black bears
A total of 2,000 black bears occupy 4 counties in Maryland, on Allegany, Garrett, Frederick, and Washington. They were once abundant statewide, but the loss of habitat ultimately decreased their population.
Bear hunting in Maryland will only be open for six days this December 2022, and hunting teams are only allowed to harvest one bear.
Fortunately, bear sightings in eastern counties have become more apparent in recent years. While Maryland’s black bear populations are steadily increasing, they have a relatively slower growth rate.
Population: 4,500 black bears
Black bears are estimated to reach over 4,500 individuals in this state and are continuously expanding eastward. They’re concentrated in Northern Middlesex County, Worcester County, and Western Berkshires.
They wander to neighborhoods to look for food, especially in garbage bins, bird feeders, and open composts since they’re highly accessible.
Maine has 3 approved bear hunting seasons wherein hunters are required to submit samples of tooth and hair to the local wildlife management for research. There should only be 1 bear harvested per calendar year.
Population: 12,000 black bears
The estimated population of black bears in Michigan is approximately 12,000 bears, with more than 9,600 found in the Upper Peninsula in areas that are heavily forested such as coniferous swamps, deciduous lowland forests, mature upland forests, and some forest openings.
Bear protection didn’t start in the state until 1925 when black bears were established as game animals, and hunting was now properly regulated. Before this, anyone could hunt for bears using any means possible.
Bear sightings are common in Mid-Michigan areas, usually when spring or summer arrives.
Population: 15,000 black bears
About 12,000 to 15,000 black bears inhabit Minnesota, and an average of 3,000 are killed annually due to sport hunting. They inhabit forested portions of the state but also wander into towns and cities.
Before proper legislation and protection for black bears, they can be harvested by any means possible at any given time without regulation during 1965.
Minnesota now has restrictive bear hunting licenses to manage black bear populations.
Population: 120 black bears
Once teeming with black bears, deforestation and overhunting caused a significant loss in the black bear population to the point of near extinction during the 1990s. It only had 12 individuals at that time.
Thanks to conservation efforts, the population has risen to 120 in 2017 and is steadily increasing. Conservation plans include providing 150,000 acres of wetlands for bear habitats.
Black bear sightings have been reported in counties near the Mississippi River and coastal counties.
Population: 840 black bears
Biologists from the Missouri Department of Conservation estimate the black bear population in 2019 to be around 540 to 840 bears, but with an agreed 700 average. The annual growth rate is at 9%, which leads experts to think that black bears will double in population by 2030.
Hunting season in 2021 only lasted for 10 days with a limit of 40 accumulated bears for all hunters. The state is wary of overkilling since it was one of the primary reasons for a significant decrease in black bear populations in the early 20th century, hence the strict hunting rules.
Sightings have been rarer in recent years but have seemed to pick up the pace this year.
Population: 15,000 black bears
Black bears are estimated to be at around 15,000 in the state of Montana, but wildlife experts claim it may be higher than that.
Black bears are considered esteemed game animals in the state with strict regulations on hunting. Harvesting of cubs or females with cubs was not allowed since 1947, and using baits was also prohibited in the following year.
Population: 700 black bears
Estimations vary, but a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife said there are 400 to 700 black bears in Nevada. In the late 1990s, the population was estimated to be only around 180.
Despite the significant increase in numbers, black bears face major habitat loss issues as they immerse more into neighborhoods to forage. Those living in lower elevations were forced to move upward for better habitat conditions.
Population: 5,000 black bears
Black bears cover a wide range in New Hampshire since it inhabits all of its 10 counties, with a total estimated population of 4,800 to 5,000 bears statewide. Bear density is considered to be relatively high in virtually any county in 2020.
Research from the University of New Hampshire finds that black bears developed a tendency to shield smaller carnivores such as gray foxes from their predators.
Citizens in New Hampshire are forbidden from feeding black bears as it may attract them and lose their cautiousness toward humans, becoming pesky wild animals.
Population: 3,158 black bears
The black bear population in the 1950s had decreased and was only hundreds in number. In Fall 2020, the estimated distribution across the state is 3,158. The population trend is fluctuating from 3,272 in 2010 and 3,606 in 2014.
Regulated hunts began in 1958 but were closed in 1971 due to the number of black bears decreasing to just 25 individuals. Since then, hunts were conducted for only 5 days during October and December only and can be canceled depending on state decisions.
Population: 6,000 black bears
Considered New Mexico’s state animals, there are 6,000 estimated black bears distributed across more than 13% of forest woodlands in the mountainous regions statewide.
Due to protection by federal law in 1927, the black bear has survived the brink of extinction and can only be hunted now by the purchase of licenses during hunting season. On average, 250 to 300 bears are being harvested annually.
Population: 8,000 black bears
New York has an estimated black bear population of 6,000 to 8,000 animals in hunting grounds, wherein 50 to 60 percent of this number inhabit the Adirondack region, 30 to 35% occupy the Catskill region, and 10 to 15% live in the central to the western region.
Black bears naturally prefer forested areas. But in recent years, they have been found in agricultural areas, semi-rural areas, and even in urban centers.
Before management efforts and the increasing availability of forest land, bears were not federally protected during the 1800s, causing their population to decline, along with loss of habitat.
Population: 20,000 black bears
The past decades have seen a significant increase in black bear populations. Today, there are estimated to be around 20,000 bears, where 4,000 to 6,000 are found in Western North Carolina, and 9,000 to 11,000 are found in the Eastern region.
Thanks to conservation efforts of creating 28 bear sanctuaries in 1971, the black bear population in the state continue to thrive.
Biologists regulate the population through hunting. Despite a one bear per hunter rule, there were 3,748 harvests made in 2021 alone.
Population: 100 black bears
An estimated 50 to 100 black bears live in Ohio, where it’s considered an endangered species. Most of these animals are not native to Ohio and are cubs that have grown in the state from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Before the relocation of bear cubs, black bears were completely removed from the state due to excessive hunting and deforestation in the 1850s.
Sightings have been increasing since 1993, with 191 reports statewide in 2021. Ashtabula County reports the most number of sightings of over 200 in 2014.
Population: 2,500 black bears
Black bears have extirpated from the state during the early 1900s before some of them relocated from Arkansas in the 1990s. Today, there are 2,500 estimated black bears statewide, mostly occupying the forests of Eastern Oklahoma.
Two black bear population groups inhabit Eastern Oklahoma: one in the Ouachita Mountains located in the Southeastern region of the state and one in the Ozarks found in East-central Oklahoma.
The state’s Department of Wildlife Conservation projects an annual growth rate of roughly 6% per year.
Population: 30,000 black bears
An estimated population of 25,000 to 30,000 black bears occupies Oregon, where most of them are concentrated in mountainous and forested areas located in the central regions. They’re also common on camping grounds.
Black bears were classified as game animals in 1961, allowing the state to regulate hunting. Only one bear per tag is allowed, but harvesting cubs that are less than a year old and/or their mothers are considered unlawful.
Oregon black bears are known to come in conflict with residents. In fact, 352 out of the 426 bear deaths that weren’t caused by hunting in 2010 were due to the bears being nuisances or damaging public and private timber.
Population: 20,000 black bears
Black bear populations in the state have been steadily increasing from 4,000 in the 1970s to approximately 18,000 to 20,000 today.
Harvests were at a peak of 4,653 bears in 2019, followed by 3,608 in 2020, which makes this the second largest harvest since 2002. The largest black bear caught was a male weighing 719 pounds.
Pennsylvanian bears have a relatively high distribution of mange among them, which is a contagious skin disease caused by parasitic mites, compared to other states with black bears. The Pennsylvania Game Commission considers this an epidemic since 2018.
Population: 10 black bears
Currently, the black bear population of Rhode Island is unknown, but there have been increased sightings reported in the state in recent years. Wildlife biologists claim that there may be fewer than 10 black bears, but this remains unconfirmed.
They were once common statewide but had vanished by the start of the 19th century.
Population: 1,000 black bears
South Carolina has an estimated black bear population of 900 to 1,000 bears, with most of them living in the Western region of the state. Coastal black bears in the state prefer bottomland hardwoods, mixed pine-hardwoods, and early successional areas.
Before federal protection was established in 1959, any citizen can kill a black bear at any given time. In 2008, the state established the Human-Bear Encounters Procedures and Protocol.
Residential and commercial development continues to threaten black bears statewide as their habitats become more fragmented.
Population: 6,000 black bears
The black bear population in Tennessee is estimated to be around 6,000 bears, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, with roughly 1,500 bears living in Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone.
Black bears used to be common in Tennessee, but populations dwindled after European settlement. However, due to conservation efforts, black bears have been repopulated in the state.
There are recent sightings and even reports of black bear attacks in June 2022, which prompts the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to remind citizens of what to do in the presence of black bears.
Population: no official estimates
There are no official estimates of black bear populations in Texas, but they’re thought to occupy habitats in the eastern region of the state. Black bears were once native to Texas, but because of hunting and trapping, most of them have been eliminated.
Three subspecies, the Mexican Black Bear, New Mexico Black Bear, and the Louisiana Black Bear are believed to occur statewide found in woodlands and desert scrubs. All three are categorized as endangered in the state.
Black bear populations in Utah are roughly 4,000 bears, whereas female adult bears are tracked via electronic collars to regularly monitor population dynamics. The state started protecting black bears in 1967 when habitat loss and hunting dwindled its populations.
Currently, black bears live in the mountainous and forested areas of Utah, but they often wander into human settlements and camping grounds.
There have been 53 statewide reported black bear incidents in 2019, with two of these involving human physical contact.
Population: 6,000 black bears
Estimated to be around 4,500 to 6,000 bears, Vermont has protected 30,000 acres of bear habitats since 1995. Today, there are more than 800,000 acres of land open for regulated hunting, according to the 2019 Vermont Black Bear Harvest Report.
Black bear harvests have reached a peak of 750 total bears in 2019. Hunting methods are limited to the use of bows and arrows, hounds, or firearms. Using bait, snares, and traps is prohibited by federal law.
There were a significant amount of non-hunting deaths in 2019, with 92 out of 137 incidents caused by vehicular collisions, and 34 were killed due to bear-human conflicts.
Population: 20,000 black bears
Virginia’s black bear population in the 1950s was only 1,000. Conservation efforts through reforestation and state management made it possible for the numbers to increase to around 18,000 to 20,000 in recent estimates.
Black bears are found in dense oak forests or near swampy areas where food is easily accessible. The oldest recorded bear in the state was a 30-year-old female.
Population: 30,000 black bears
Occupying forested habitats varying from dry woodlands to coastal rainforests, black bears are estimated to be around 25,000 to 30,000 in Washington. They also venture into open habitats and come in contact with humans, causing hundreds of conflicts yearly.
Public outrage and a vote canceled black bear hunting in the state this Spring 2022. Conservationists argue that black bear hunts in the spring target bear that have just emerged from hibernation.
Population: 500 black bears
Wildlife biologists in the early 1970s estimated a population of less than 500 black bears in West Virginia. The research helped the state adjust bear hunting seasons to better protect black bears. Today, black bears are estimated to be around 8,000 statewide.
Black bears are harvested in 46 of West Virginia’s 55 counties, with peak harvests amounting to 3,541 in 2021.
Population: 24,000 black bears
Home to a steadily growing black bear population, Wisconsin has more than 24,000 bears as of recent estimates. They are located primarily in the far northern regions of the state, but due to their thriving numbers, they are now more common in the southern regions.
Large-scale killing, logging, and development of human settlements have significantly decreased black bear populations in the state, which prompted their federal protection starting in 1930.
It wasn’t until 1985 that black bear harvests were controlled when the hunting season was closed during the year. In 1986, the state implemented a better bear hunting control system.
There is currently no recorded black bear population estimation in Wyoming, but there are 200 black bears harvested annually in the state. Furthermore, there are approximately 500 to 600 bears in Yellowstone National Park, which is mostly situated in Wyoming.
Tabular Presentation of Black Bear Population per State
|State||Black Bear Population|
|Alabama||100 to 200|
|Arizona||2,000 to 3,500|
|California||30,000 to 40,000|
|Colorado||17,000 to 20,000|
|Connecticut||1,000 to 1,200|
|Idaho||20,000 to 30,000|
|Kentucky||Less than 1,000|
|Louisiana||500 to 750|
|Maine||24,000 to 36,000|
|Minnesota||12,000 to 15,000|
|Missouri||540 to 840|
|Nevada||400 to 700|
|New Hampshire||4,800 to 5,000|
|New York||6,000 to 8,000|
|Ohio||50 to 100|
|Oregon||25,000 to 30,000|
|Pennsylvania||18,000 to 20,000|
|Rhode Island||Unknown; Believed to be 10 but unconfirmed|
|South Carolina||900 to 1,000|
|Vermont||4,500 to 6,000|
|Virginia||18,000 to 20,000|
|Washington||25,000 to 30,000|
US States That Have No Black Bears
- Delaware. There are no records of black bears in the state, and are considered to be extirpated, but there is news of reported sightings. However, Delaware’s Division of Fish & Wildlife believes they come from either Pennsylvania, Maryland, or New Jersey—its neighboring states.
- Hawaii. There were never records of black bears in Hawaii, according to the USDA Forest Service.
- Illinois. Black bears are extirpated in the state during the 19th century, around the time of the Civil War, although it was once a native mammal statewide. The last bear was thought to be killed in 1850 using an ax.
- Indiana. Due to habitat loss and unmonitored hunting, black bears have been extirpated from the state since 1850. However, there were sightings recorded in recent years, but they’re believed to be from neighboring states.
- Iowa. There are currently no breeding populations of black bears in Iowa. However, bears from neighboring states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Missouri occasionally wander into the state.
- Kansas. There were two recorded subspecies of black bears in Kansas, which were the New Mexico black bear and the Eastern black bear before their extirpation from the state by the 1880s. There are immature bears in Kansas that were dispersed from neighboring states, and it is currently unknown whether or not they find Kansas habitats suitable for living
- Nebraska. There was a reported sighting of a black bear in Nebraska—the first in over a hundred years since their extirpation.
- North Dakota. There are no known breeding populations of black bears in the state, but there are at least annual sightings of about 12 to 15 bears.
- South Dakota. No black bear populations, but the state have seen an increase in sightings since 2001 with 12 to 15 sightings in 2021 alone.
Black bear populations range from as little as 50 to 100 individual bears in Ohio to as many as 100,000 in Alaska. There are only 41 states that have black bears since they were extirpated from the other 9 states.
However, there have been recent black bear sightings in states with no known black bear breeding populations due to wandering bears from neighboring states.
List of Sources
State Mammal of Alabama – Black Bear. Alabama Department of Archives and History.
Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Vargas, C., et al. (2010). American Black Bears (Ursus americanus) in Saguaro National Park: Status and population estimate using genetic analysis. National Park Service – U.S. Department of the Interior.
Camper’s Guide to Being Bear Aware. California Department of Fish and Game.
Phillips, R. (2022). Top 10 tips for Idaho spring black bear hunting. Idaho Official Government Website.