Black Bears of Texas

A young male black bear in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park.

If you ask most people whether black bears (Ursus americanus) reside in Texas, their answer will probably be no. However, the correct answer is, surprisingly, yes! Within Texas, black bears can be found in the southern part of the Trans-Pecos, the western Hill Country, the northern Panhandle, and far northeast Texas. Due to the small number of black bears within Texas, black bears are protected here, meaning it is illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or otherwise take them. If there is a problem black bear, you should contact your local Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist for help with the situation.

Historically, both black bears and their larger cousins, brown bears (also called grizzly bears, Ursus arctos), could be found in parts of Texas. While brown bears have been extirpated from Texas and are only found in the northern U.S. and Canada, black bears have returned to much of their former range. But the common names of these two species can cause a good deal of confusion for people, even in areas where their ranges do not overlap. Brown bear coats can be a variety of colors, but most are some shade of brown. Black bears, on the other hand, do not all have black coats. Their coat color can vary from black to brown to “cinnamon” or even blond. This color variation in black bears can be attributed to differences in genetic selection in a particular population.

The diet of a black bear mainly consists of insects and plant matter, such as berries, nuts, and fruit. While black bears will occasionally kill large mammals, they are more likely to scavenge on the carcass of a previously dead animal. Due to their size and diet composition, black bears rarely pose a threat to humans, pets, or livestock, although conflicts between black bears and humans can arise. Black bears, like most animals, look for the easiest meal possible. For a powerful animal, that can sometimes mean a wildlife feeding station, a cooler at a campsite, or even a trash can. Preventing bears from accessing these types of food is critical for reducing conflicts, and there are multiple ways to do this. Purchasing bear proof trash cans and storing food properly while camping are important steps to staying safe in bear country, and to keep bears safe as well.

If black bears become dependent on human food sources, they can become a hazard to people and pets. Sometimes, problem black bears can be relocated or deterred from using these food sources, but deterrent methods and relocations are not always successful. Unfortunately, if black bears continue to be nuisance animals they often must be euthanized. The public can help keep black bears and people safe by preventing bears from gaining access to wildlife feeders, coolers, and trash cans.

Young black bear. Photo copyright Elizabeth Oaster.

For more information on black bears in Texas, including tips for how to make an area black bear safe, please read Living with Black Bears in Texas.

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