Report – TO3025 – Brown Bear Management

TO3025, 2000-10-30

Brown Bear Tourism Management

(With Special Regard to British Colombia, Canada)


Too often, brown bears are portrayed as either vicious killers or as Winnie-the-Pooh, when neither case is true. The truth is brown bears do sometimes attack humans. The truth also is that brown bears are very much like humans. They eat mostly plants and grains, but love sugar, meat and fat. They stand upright. They can be jealous, possessive, and promiscuous – they even spank their children (GORP, 2000).

At present, there are eight different types of bears. They include:

the Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), American black bear (Ursus americanus), Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) and Brown bear (Ursus arctos) (Anon.2., 2000).

The brown bears were once the most widespread bear species in the world. They were found in Europe, Asia, North Africa and throughout the western half of North America from the Arctic to central Mexico. Brown bears today are confined to sparsely inhabited regions of central Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and North America (BC Parks, 1995).

The British Colombian (BC) Government has implemented a bear-people conflict prevention plan that provides direction and guidelines for BC Parks staff to use when they are confronted with potential problem with bear management situations in the provincial parks. The focus of the plan is on preventing conflicts from occurring by eliminating access to human food and garbage, and by managing visitor activities in areas of high seasonal bear use. It describes management actions for staff training, visitor information, facility location/design, food storage and garbage handling (BC Parks, 1995).

This essay will discuss the biology, ecology and behavior of brown bears (Ursus arctos) that belong to the order Carnivora, family Ursidae. It will also discuss resource management, hunting and the fact that brown bears are endangered. Aspects of tourism associated with the brown bears, how the tourism is managed and how it could be better managed will also be addressed.

Brown Bear Biology

The brown bear can be distinguished by its shoulder hump, which is caused by muscles used for digging. The color of the animal varies from a light creamy color through to black. It has a dished facial profile and very long claws on the front paws (Anon.1., 2000). Previously, the grizzly bear of North America, the brown bear of Alaska and Eurasia were described as three different subspecies, but recent genetic research sponsored by the Yellowstone Grizzly Foundation (2000) has demonstrated that they are all the same species. The historic classification that described three different subspecies was:

Ursus arctos arctos: “Scandinavian – Eurasian Brown Bear,” found in Scandinavia and in the USSR and is larger than the grizzly (Anon.2., 2000).

Ursus arctos horribilis: “Grizzly,” “Silvertip.”, “Roachback”, found in the Western United States specifically Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Western and Northern Canada, and throughout Alaska (Anon.2., 2000).

Ursus arctos middendorffi: “Alaskan Brown”, “Kodiak”, found on the Alaska coast, Alaska peninsula and the adjacent islands. This is a larger

bear than the grizzly (Anon.2., 2000).

General Characteristics

The brown bear is a flagship species; this means that the bears have highly attractive and interesting features that might serve as a focus for conservation (Meffe & Carroll, 1994).

The bear’s weight varies widely throughout the course of the year. Some can even double their weight between emerging from their dens in the spring and returning to them in the fall. The males can weigh anywhere from 140 to 390 kg, with the females coming in somewhere between 100 and 210 kg. The heaviest grizzly on record was 680kg (Anon.1., 2000).

Reproduction behavior

Brown bears reach sexual maturity between four and a half to seven years of age. Females and males mature at approximately the same time, but males do often not become successful breeders until they are eight to ten years old due to intra-specific competition with older, stronger males (Anon.1., 2000). During the mating season, from mid-May to mid-June, solitary bears let down their guard a little to get to know each other by chasing each other, play fighting or even nuzzling and licking each other. The outcome of this process may be rejection or the formation of a pair bond that lasts from several days to a couple of weeks (Hamer and Herrero, 1977, 1990).

Brown bears have developed a process called delayed implantation; this means that female Brown bears can give birth to cubs with different fathers. This function also allows the female to evaluate if she is will be able to store enough fat reserves to support herself and her cub/s over the winter. If she does not, the embryo is reabsorbed by her body and she will not give birth to cubs the following spring (Hamer and Herrero, 1977, 1990). The researcher also found that if her energy stores are low, however, despite use of high-quality food, a trout eating female is apparently less fecund than other females and would lose a larger percentage of dependent young. Speculations as to causative factors tend to point at an increased rate of intra-specific predation by the aggregation of bears at streams (Mattson & Reinhart, 1995).

If a female bear does give birth then she usually has one to four cubs during winter hibernation, with two being most common sometime between January and March. The cubs will stay with the female up to four and a half years, with the result that the female only breeds about once every three years or so. Given that bears generally live only until they are 20-25 years of age, this does not give very many opportunities to reproduce (Anon.1., 2000).


Bears spend almost half of their lives in winter dens. On average, bears in the Rocky Mountains spend 4.5 months of the year in or near their den sites. Den entry depends on both physiological and environmental factors. Pregnant females usually den for the longest time while the males have the shortest time in the den. These patterns in den use will vary depending on the age of the bear and the local climate (Anon.3., 2000). During hibernation a bear reduces its body temperature only slightly to between 31° C and 35° C to conserve energy. During this time it does not eat, drink or void any urine or faeces (Knox et al., 1999).


Bears may be encountered throughout parks in British Colombia during the summer months. Although most bears are simply travelling through and make every effort to avoid humans, a bag of garbage or some unattended food on a picnic table may be irresistible to their keen sense of smell. Bears that scavenge food begin to associate food with humans, and become “food-conditioned”. Food-conditioned bears lose their natural fear of humans and become a threat to park visitors as they roam through the park in search of an easy meal (BC Parks, 2000).

BC Parks (2000) have warned that bears are not tame, gentle or cuddly; but are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

Home ranges and Food Preference

The home ranges of bears often overlap. The ranges of males will often intersect those of several females. Bears will not generally attack other bears which wander into their territories. They will even congregate peacefully in places where food is plentiful such as garbage dumps and salmon streams (Hildebrand, et al., 1999). In such places the dominant males will usually get the choice fishing areas. Based on dentition brown bears are technically carnivores but in practice most of their diet consists of plant matter such as sedges, grasses, bulbs, seeds, berries, and roots. They will also eat insects, fish, and small mammals. Some of these bears have even developed predatory practices on large animals, including moose, caribou, and elk (Anon.4., 2000). Bears are known to prey upon moose in Alaska and this help to keep the numbers of moose down (Caughley & Sinclair, 1994). Areas with a favorable foodbase can be a partial reason for the presence of a high density of bear, e.g. Flathead River drainage in southeastern BC (McLellana & Hovey, 1995). Studies have also shown that, in absence of high-quality foraging alternatives in July-August, the bears tends to turn to the alpine insect aggregations as an important food source (Mattson, et al., 1991).

Geographical Distribution and Population Status

Grizzly bears were once the most widespread bear species in the world. They were found in Europe, Asia, and throughout the western half of North America from the Arctic to central Mexico. They have disappeared from more than half their former range. Grizzly bears are confined to sparsely inhabited regions of central Europe, Scandinavia, Russia and North America (BC Parks, 1995). In Canada, Grizzly bears are still found in parts of the mountain ranges from the coast of British Columbia to the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta (Paquet and Hackman 1995).

Early records from Banff National Park reveal that Grizzly bear numbers began to decline in

1850. This decline coincided with the arrival of significant numbers of people of western-European descent. By 1911, Grizzly bear population levels were at the lowest recorded levels, especially in the Bow River valley where most human activity was, and still is, concentrated. After 1911, there was a gradual increase in Grizzly bears until 1940s. In the adjacent Alberta Provincial lands, the Grizzly bear population declined through most of this century due to excessive hunting mortality and habitat loss (Anon.4., 2000). British Colombia has half of Canada’s current Grizzly/Brown bear (Ursus arctos) population which is estimated to between 22,000 and 28,000 individuals and that is half of the world’s Brown bear population (Herrero, 1995).

Human-caused mortality is not the only factor that affects Grizzly bear population levels. The very low population density and the low reproductive output from the bears make them prone to decline and extinction. And so, by their very nature, bears are highly sensitive and serve as excellent indicators of how well the wilderness in which they live is being managed (Anon.4., 2000).

Endangered Species Status

Brown bears are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. Today, the Grizzly bear is classified as a threatened species in the bordering United States, a vulnerable species in Canada, and a blue-listed, “at risk” species in the Province of Alberta (Paquet and Hackman, 1995; COSEWIC, 2000).

There have been attempts to de-list the species from the endangered species status (though no scientific evidence yet given to support such demands. The most critical aspect to protect this species is to preserve enough undisturbed wilderness for them to survive (Anon.1., 2000; COSEWIC, 2000).

Resource management

BC Parks have stressed that there is little or no chance of correcting a food-conditioned bear and Park Rangers are forced to destroy them when they become aggressive towards humans. They ask park visitors not to be a contributor to food-conditioning and remember that…


The BC Government has implemented a bear-people conflict prevention plan to avoid destruction of bears which provides direction and guidelines for BC Parks staff to use when they are confronted with bear management situations in the provincial parks. The focus of the plan is on preventing conflicts from occurring by eliminating access to human food and garbage, and by managing visitor activities in areas of high seasonal bear use. It describes management actions for staff training, visitor information, facility location/design, food storage and garbage handling (BC Parks, 1995). This plan is part of BC Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy whose main points are:

Grizzly Bear Management Areas: The Government has identified a number of key Grizzly bear habitats for possible designation as special Grizzly Bear Management Areas. The designation prohibits Grizzly hunting, but not necessarily prohibit resource extraction; however, the designation ensures that the areas are managed to secure the long-term survival of Grizzly bear populations. Grizzly Bear Management Areas are identified through existing land-use planning processes such as Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) and the Protected Areas Strategy (PAS) (BC Parks, 1995).

Grizzly Bear Scientific Advisory Committee: An independent Grizzly Bear Scientific Advisory Committee will be established to provide advice to government on the conservation needs of grizzly bears. The Committee will be made up of respected grizzly bear experts, and will seek input from a public interest committee made up of representatives from key stakeholder groups around British Columbia (BC Parks, 1995).

Increased Research: Government will increase its research on grizzly bear ecosystems, including a province-wide inventory and assessment of grizzly bears and grizzly bear habitats (BC Parks, 1995).

Changes to Hunting Regulations: By fall 1996, all areas of the province still open to grizzly bear hunting have been placed on Limited Entry Harvest, the province’s lottery system for the allocation of limited hunting opportunities. Quotas and administrative guidelines are put in place in areas where grizzly bear hunting is allowed. In addition, all bear hunting licenses include a surcharge for the Habitat Conservation Fund that will help pay for grizzly bear population and habitat research throughout the province. This despite that hunting provides food for many people and generates more than $100 million in revenue – mostly in rural areas. (BC Parks, 1995).

Increased Enforcement: The Government has stepped up enforcement to deal with poaching, illegal trade in bear parts and other violations of the British Columbia Wildlife Act (BC Parks, 1995).

Increased Penalties: Penalties for poaching grizzly bears has also increased substantially: First offence fines raised from a minimum of $200 to $1,000 and a old maximum of $10,000 to $25,000. Fines for second and subsequent offences raised from a minimum of $1,000 to $6,000 and a maximum raised from $25,000 to $50,000 (BC Parks, 1995).

Education: A comprehensive environmental education program for the intermediate and senior

secondary school levels is developed by government. In addition, an information program targeting both specific groups and the general public is developed to increase public awareness about grizzly bears, bear safety and ways to avoid bear/people conflicts (BC Parks, 1995).

Preventing “Problem” Bears: The Government has developed policies to minimize conflicts between people and grizzly bears. New policies has been developed to regulate garbage and waste disposal, and to deal with other food sources that attract Grizzly bears, such as orchards, compost heaps and home waste. Government provides funding and support to communities for improvements of waste management facilities, including fencing dumps and removing or rebuilding poorly constructed waste management facilities. The Waste Management Branch of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks has designated $250,000 (CAD) annually for controlling waste to help eliminate garbage-habituation in bears throughout the province (BC Parks, 1995).

Partnerships with the Private Sector: The National Basketball Association’s Vancouver Grizzlies, as part of their commitment to the community, have become a major partner in the Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, to help promote the conservation needs of grizzly bears, The provincial government joined forces with the Grizzlies to form partnerships with other organizations and the private sector to help raise funds for more education and research (BC Parks, 1995).

“The grizzly bear is perhaps the greatest symbol of wilderness. Its survival will be the greatest testimony to our environmental commitment. The British Columbia Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy will leave a permanent legacy for our children: A Future for the Grizzly” (BC Parks, 1995).

Bear associated tourism

Bear viewing

Seeing a Grizzly in the wild is an experience that most people would cherish for the rest of their lives. Bear viewing in British Columbia is an emerging form of outdoor recreation that can affect Grizzly bears and their habitats.

BC Parks (1995) considered themselves fortunate that British Columbia is still able to provide such an experience in settings where it is relatively safe for both humans and bears. However, being watched and photographed can have a negative impact on the wildlife being observed. Viewing bears has special considerations that the viewing of other wildlife does not require. The mere presence of humans in bear habitat can create stress for Grizzly bears and cause them to abandon a habitat, temporarily or permanently. Viewers may also be at risk if bears become too familiar with humans and lose their natural shyness of people (BC Parks, 1995).

As part of the strategy research around Grizzly bear viewing were planned in order to make better decisions about managing activities in Grizzly bear habitats. As the research needed to determine the impacts of bear viewing on bear behavior and habitats and to determine which Grizzly bear populations and locations might be best or least suited to this activity (BC Parks, 1995).


If economics deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, then what is the economic aspect or value of grizzly bears?

It all comes down to one word: ecotourism. Wildlife watching was validated as a

recreational past-time with the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. Since then, studies show that people around the world are spending more time viewing and photographing wild places and wildlife than ever before; people are rediscovering their natural heritage and the joys associated with it (NWF, 1996-2000).

Grizzly bears are an especially big attraction. Studies in Alaska have shown that people are willing to pay more for trips on which bears are seen than for trips on which other wildlife species are seen. This is the case even in Alaska where bears are abundant. Where bears are relatively scarce, such as the lower 48 states, the social and economic value of seeing Grizzlies must be much higher (NWF, 1996-2000).

It is therefore of great importance to conserve Brown bears, not only from a biological point of view but also from a social and economic point of view.

Tourism is a growing industry and it can be used as a saviour and/or contributor to the conservation of the bears.


Adamson, A. (1999) The Bear Den. Grizzlies in Peril. URL:

Anon.1. (2000) Grizzly Discovery.


Anon.2. (2000) Yellowstone Grizzly Foundation.


Anon.3. (2000) Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project (ESGBP).


Anon.4. (2000) URL:

BC Parks (2000) Bear Safety Official website for British Columbia Provincial Parks information, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, BC, Canada. URL:

BC Parks. (1995) A Future for the Grizzly: British Columbia Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy. Official website for British Columbia Provincial Parks information, Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, BC, Canada.


Caughley, G. & Sinclair, A.R.E. (1994) Wildlife Ecology and Management. Blackwell Science, Cambridge, USA.

COSEWIC. (2000) Committee On the Status of Endagered Species In Canada


GORP. (2000) Mark of the Grizzly – true stories of recent bear attacks and the hard lesson learned. URL:

Hamer, D. and Herrero, S. (1990) Courtship and use of mating areas by grizzly bears in the Front Ranges of Banff National Park, Alberta. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 68 (12) 2695-2697.

Herrero, S. and Hamer, D. (1977) Courtship and copulation of a pair of grizzly bears, with comments on reproductive plasticity and strategy. J. Mammal. 58 (3) 441-444.

Herrero, S. (1995) The Canadian National Parks and grizzly bear ecosystems: The need for interagency management. Int. Conf. Bear Res. and Manage. 9(1) 7-21.

Hilderbrand G.V., Schwartz C.C., Robbins C.T., Jacoby M.E., Hanley T.A., Arthur S.M. and Servhean C. (1999) The importance of meat, particular salmon, to body size, population productivity and conservation of North American brown bears. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77 (1) 132-138.

Knox, B., Ladiges, P. and Evans, B. (1999) Biology. McGraw-Hill Book Company Australia. Pty Limited, Roseville.

Mattson D.J., Benson S.A., Gillin C.M. and Knight R.R. (1991) Bear feeding activity at alpine insect aggregation sites in Yellowstone ecosystem. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 69 (9) 2430-2435.

Mattson D.J. & Reinhart D.P. (1995) Influences of cutthroat trout (Onchychus claki) on behavior and reproduction of Yellostone Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos), 1975-1984. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 78 (11) 2072-2079.

McLellana B.N. and Hovey F.W. (1995) The diet of grizzly bears in the Flathead River drainage of southeastern British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 73 (4) 704-712.

Meffe G.K. and Carroll C.R. (1994) Priciples of Conservation Biology Sinauer Associates, Inc. USA.

NWF (1996-2000) National Wildlife Federation URL:

Paquet P. and Hackman A. (1995) Large carnivore conservation in the Rocky Mountains. A long-term strategy for maintaining free-ranging and self-sustaining populations of carnivores. Prepared for World Wildlife Fund

Leave a Reply