Category: Bear

I have been trying to find out what else I can do with my graphics software and, as I like wood carvings and engravings, I am playing around a bit with that.  I thought I would start with a simple  “wood burning” or engraving of a grizzly bear cub in a tree on a piece of wood. Not too bad for a first attempt; even a bit of shadows and highlights around the edges.

ursa minor carving

Ursa Minor

The Evolution Of The Kodiak Bear

All bears are impressive; the largest of them all the Kodiak Bear, especially so.

Click on image for full-size view.

kodiak bear

Kodiak Bear

The Kodiak Bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi), a subspecies of the brown, or grizzly, bear are the world’s largest bears. A full grown male can be over ten feet tall when upright on his hind legs and weigh over 1500 pounds – truly a sight to behold. One bear in the Bismarck, North Dakota zoo was estimated to have weighed as much as 2400 pounds.
The bears live on the islands of Alaska’s Kodiak Archipelago. Today there are approximately 3500 Kodiak bears and their numbers are increasing due to the generally excellent condition of their habitat including sufficient fist to eat. They are called “takuka-aq” in Alutiiq, the language of the people’s native to that area. The bears are believed to have been isolated there since toward the end of the last Ice Age over 12,000 years ago.
Though they are the largest terrestrial carnivore their diet includes large amounts of grass, other plants and berries. Today there are approximately 3500 Kodiak bears and their numbers are increasing due to the generally excellent condition of their habitat including sufficient fish to eat. Due to the abundance of food resources Kodiak bears have smaller home ranges than any other brown bears and have no need to defend territories.
The Alutiiq people hunted bears for food, clothing and tools. Arrows, spears, and a great deal of courage were required hunting equipment. Bear heads were usually left in the field as a sign of respect to the spirit of the bears.

I thought it was time for Alaska to issue another postage stamp:

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8-nugget alaska kodiak bear postage stamp

8-Nugget Kodiak Bear Stamp

Some people like to collect antique, aka vintage, printed advertising and labels from canned meat and produce. Labels can be had for from less than a dollar to hundreds of dollars. Fruit crate labels can go for thousands of dollars. The art on the labels is often very good and reproductions are popular.

Labels from canned salmon are seen frequently. A few examples, circa 1890 – 1910:

vintage wild rose canned salmon label

Wild Rose Salmon

clover leaf canned salmon

Clover Leaf Salmon

walrus brand canned salmon

Walrus Salmon

I thought I would work up my own “vintage” canned salmon label. The first actual cannery in Alaska opened in 1878. After some some research I based the image on examples of actual salmon labels and the coffee label seen below (circa 1870). Not quite as old and primitive as the coffee label, a bit less sophisticated than the 1890s labels.

lion brand coffee label - circa 1870

Lion Brand Coffee

My label, circa 1879, is below. Not quite as old and primitive as the coffee label, a bit less sophisticated than the 1890s labels. Other than a bit of discoloration and some damage in the upper left hand corner it is in really good shape; rare for a label this old.

Click on image for full-size view.

kodiak brand canned sockeye salmon label

Kodiak Brand Sockeye Salmon

Oh, and here are a couple of shots of the label before I removed it from the can.

salmon can front view

Front View of Kodiak Salmon Can

kodiak salmon can back view

Back View Of Kodiak Salmon Can

As usual, the bears are available on many items at my Zazzle store.

Summer in Alaska. It was somewhere around seventy degrees here today. A real scorcher! And the bears are surfing on that cold, cold water.

This is from the hottest t-shirt around.

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A black bear surfs the bore tide near Beluga Point, Alaska

Alaska Surfing

Knik Arm and Turnagain Arm. surrounding Anchorage, boast the second highest tides in North America after the Bay of Fundy. These tides, which can reach 40 feet, come in so quickly that they sometimes produce a wave known as a bore tide wave. Adventurous locals have taken to riding this wave out on a kayak or board – talk about extreme surfing!

The best place to see the Alaskan bore tide is along Turnagain Arm, just south of Anchorage. In particular, Beluga Point, Indian, and Bird Point are easily accessible by road and are within an hour drive of Anchorage. Bird Point offers a small interpretive panel dedicated to the tide.

Bore tides exist in other places around the globe such as the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, and the Tsientang River in China. The longest exists in the Amazon River in South America – there too, extreme surfers dare the wave on a 99-mile stretch of water.

CAUTION! Bore tides are dangerous. Due to the quicksand-like mudflats that make up the beaches along Turnagain Arm, hikers may get stuck in the mud and drown or die from hypothermia. Always stay off the mud flats and observe the bore tide from a safe distance.

The best times to see a good bore are when the low tide in Anchorage has a high negative value, particularly if the good low tide is followed by a large high tide; this maximizes the “sloshing” effect that causes bore tides to occur.

The bore tides are a must-see experience in Southcentral Alaska, as they occur in so few other places in the world. Be sure to enjoy this phenomenon from a safe distance, however, as they can be quite dangerous due to their height and speed of approach in addition to the mudflats mentioned above.

A tidal bore (or simply bore in context, or also aegir, eagre, or eygre) is a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) of water that travels up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay’s current. As such, it is a true tidal wave and not to be confused with a tsunami, which is a large ocean wave traveling primarily on the open ocean.

Bores occur in relatively few locations worldwide, usually in areas with a large tidal range 20 ft between high and low water and where incoming tides are funneled into a shallow, narrowing river or lake via a broad bay. The funnel-like shape not only increases the tidal range, but it can also decrease the duration of the flood tide, down to a point where the flood appears as a sudden increase in the water level. A tidal bore takes place during the flood tide and never during the ebb tide.

A tidal bore may take on various forms, ranging from a single breaking wavefront with a roller — somewhat like a hydraulic jump — to “undular bores”, comprising a smooth wavefront followed by a train of secondary waves (whelps). Large bores can be particularly unsafe for shipping but also present opportunities for river surfing.

Two key features of a tidal bore are the intense turbulence and turbulent mixing generated during the bore propagation, as well as its rumbling noise. The visual observations of tidal bores highlight the turbulent nature of the surging waters. The tidal bore induces a strong turbulent mixing in the estuarine zone, and the effects may be felt along considerable distances. The velocity observations indicate a rapid deceleration of the flow associated with the passage of the bore as well as large velocity fluctuations. A tidal bore creates a powerful roar that combines the sounds caused by the turbulence in the bore front and whelps, entrained air bubbles in the bore roller, sediment erosion beneath the bore front and of the banks, scouring of shoals and bars, and impacts on obstacles. The bore rumble is heard far away because its low frequencies can travel over long distances. The low-frequency sound is a characteristic feature of the advancing roller in which the air bubbles entrapped in the large-scale eddies are acoustically active and play the dominant role in the rumble-sound generation.

The word bore derives through Old English from the Old Norse word bára, meaning “wave” or “swell”.

Nitinat Lake on Vancouver Island has a sometimes dangerous tidal bore at Nitinat Narrows where the lake meets the Pacific Ocean. The lake is popular with windsurfers due to its consistent winds.

Most rivers draining into the upper Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have tidal bores. Notable ones include:

The Petitcodiac River. Formerly the highest bore in North America at over 6.6 ft; however, causeway construction and extensive silting reduced it to little more than a ripple, until the causeway gates were opened on April 14, 2010, as part of the Petitcodiac River Restoration project and the tidal bore began to grow again.

The Shubenacadie River, also off the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. When the tidal bore approaches, completely drained riverbeds are filled. It has claimed the lives of several tourists who were in the riverbeds when the bore came in. Tour boat operators offer rafting excursions in the summer.

The bore is fastest and highest on some of the smaller rivers that connect to the bay including the River Hebert and Maccan River on the Cumberland Basin, the St. Croix, Herbert and Kennetcook Rivers in the Minas Basin, and the Salmon River in Truro.

Tidal-bore affected estuaries are the rich feeding zones and breeding grounds of several forms of wildlife. The estuarine zones are the spawning and breeding grounds of several native fish species, while the aeration induced by the tidal bore contribute to the abundant growth of many species of fish and shrimps (for example in the Rokan River).

Two Native Americans paddle their canoe across a lake, just offshore, on a foggy morning. A black bear sow is none too pleased and has sent her cub up a nearby birch tree for safety.

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Black bears on a lake shore

A Black Bear Sow And Her Cub

The American black bear, Ursus americanus, is the smallest of the three bears species found in North America, and are found only in North America. Although they all live in North America, black bears are not closely related to brown bears and polar bears; genetic studies reveal that they split from a common ancestor 5.05 million years ago. Black bears can be distinguished from brown bears by their smaller size, their more concave profiles, their shorter claws and the lack of a shoulder hump.

Black bear fur is usually a uniform color except for a brown muzzle and light “crescent moon” markings that sometimes appear on their chests. Despite their name, black bears show a great deal of color variation. Individual coat colors can range from white, blond, cinnamon, or light brown to dark chocolate brown or to jet black, with many intermediate variations existing. Bluish tinged black bears occur along a portion of coastal Alaska and British Columbia. White to cream colored black bears occur in coastal islands and the adjacent mainland of south-western British Columbia. Albino specimens have also been recorded. Black coats tend to predominate in moist areas such as New England, New York, Tennessee, Michigan and western Washington. 70% of all black bears are black, though only 50% of black bears in the Rocky Mountains are black. Black bears with white-bluish fur are known as Kermode (glacier) bears and these unique color phases are only found in coastal British Columbia, Canada.

Black bears are omnivorous: plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals and carrion. In northern regions, they eat spawning salmon. Black bears will also occasionally kill young deer or moose calves.

The American black bear is distributed throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico and in at least 40 states in the U.S. They historically occupied nearly all of the forested regions of North America, but in the U.S. they are now restricted to the forested areas less densely occupied by humans. In Canada, black bears still inhabit most of their historic range except for the intensively farmed areas of the central plains. In Mexico, black bears were thought to have inhabited the mountainous regions of the northern states but are now limited to a few remnant populations.

Black bears are extremely adaptable and show a great variation in habitat types, though they are primarily found in forested areas with thick ground vegetation and an abundance of fruits, nuts, and vegetation. In the northern areas, they can be found in the tundra, and they will sometimes forage in fields or meadows.

Black bears tend to be territorial and non-gregarious in nature. They mark their territories by rubbing their bodies against trees and clawing at the bark. They are strong swimmers, doing so for pleasure and to feed. Black bears climb regularly to feed, escape enemies or to hibernate. Their arboreal abilities tend to decline with age. Adult black bears are mostly nocturnal, but juveniles are often active in daytime. The bears usually forage alone, but will tolerate each other and forage in groups if there is an abundance of food in one area.

Most black bears hibernate depending on local weather conditions and availability of food during the winter months. In regions where there is a consistent food supply and warmer weather throughout the winter, bears may not hibernate at all or do so for a very brief time. Females give birth and usually remain denned throughout the winter, but males and females without young may leave their dens from time to time during winter months.

Black bears were once not considered true or “deep” hibernators, but because of discoveries about the metabolic changes that allow black bears to remain dormant for months without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating, most biologists have redefined mammalian hibernation as “specialized, seasonal reduction in metabolism concurrent with scarce food and cold weather”. Black bears are now considered highly efficient hibernators.

Black bears enter their dens in October and November. Prior to that time, they can put on up to 30 pounds of body fat to get them through the seven months during which they fast. Hibernation in black bears typically lasts 3–5 months. During this time, their heart rate drops from 40–50 beats per minute to 8 beats per minute. They spend their time in hollowed-out dens in tree cavities, under logs or rocks, in banks, caves, or culverts, and in shallow depressions. Females, however, have been shown to be pickier in their choice of dens, in comparison to males. A special hormone, leptin is released into their systems, to suppress appetite. Because they do not urinate or defecate during dormancy, the nitrogen waste from the bear’s body is biochemically recycled back into their proteins. This also serves the purpose of preventing muscle loss, as the process uses the waste products to build muscle during the long periods of inactivity. In comparison to true hibernators, their body temperature does not drop significantly (staying around 35 degrees Celsius) and they remain somewhat alert and active. If the winter is mild enough, they may wake up and forage for food. Females also give birth in February and nurture their cubs until the snow melts. During winter, black bears consume 25–40% of their body weight. The footpads peel off while they sleep, making room for new tissue. After emerging from their winter dens in spring, they wander their territories for two weeks so that their metabolism accustoms itself to the activity. They will seek carrion from winter-killed animals and new shoots of many plant species, especially wetland plants.In mountainous areas, they seek southerly slopes at lower elevations for forage and move to northerly and easterly slopes at higher elevations as summer progresses.

Up to 85% of the black bear’s diet consists of vegetation, though they tend to dig less than brown bears, eating far fewer roots, bulbs, corms and tubers than the latter species. Young shoots from trees and shrubs during the spring period are important to black bears emerging from hibernation, as they assist in rebuilding muscle and strengthening the skeleton and are often the only digestible foods available at that time. Berries, fruits, grasses, nuts and buds are often eaten. During this period, they may also raid the nut caches of squirrels. Black bears are fond of honey, and will gnaw through trees if hives are too deeply set into the trunks for them to reach them with their paws. Once the hive is breached, black bears will scrape the honeycombs together with their paws and eat them, regardless of stings from the bees.

The majority of the black bear’s animal diet consists of insects such as bees, yellow-jackets, ants and their larvae. Black bears will fish for salmon during the night, as their black fur is easily spotted by salmon in the daytime. However, the white furred black bears of the islands of western Canada have a 30% greater success rate in catching salmon than their black furred counterparts.They will also prey on mule and white-tailed deer fawns in certain areas. In addition they have been recorded preying on elk calves in Idaho and moose calves in Alaska. Black bear predation on adult deer is rare but has been recorded. They may hunt adult moose by ambushing them as they pass by. Black bears often drag their prey to cover, preferring to feed in seclusion and frequently begin feeding on the udder of lactating females, but generally prefer meat from the viscera. The skin of large prey is stripped back and turned inside out with the skeleton usually left largely intact. Unlike wolves and coyotes, black bears rarely scatter the remains of their kills. Vegetation around the carcass is usually matted down by black bears and their droppings are frequently found nearby. Black bears may attempt to cover remains of larger carcasses, though they do not do so with the same frequency as cougars and grizzly bears. They may climb up to bald eagle nests to eat the eggs or chicks. Black bears have been reported stealing deer and other animals from human hunters.

It is estimated that there are at least 600,000 black bears in North America. In the United States, there are estimated to be over 300,000 individuals. However, the Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolu) and Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) are threatened subspecies with small populations. The current range of black bears in the United States is constant throughout most of the northeast (down to Virginia and West Virginia), the northern midwest, the Rocky mountain region, the west coast and Alaska. However it becomes increasingly fragmented or absent in other regions. Despite this, black bears in those areas seems to have expanded their range during the last decade. Surveys taken from 35 states in the early 1990s indicate that black bears are either stable or increasing, excepting Idaho and New Mexico.

Black bears currently inhabit much of their original Canadian range, though they do not occur in the southern farmlands of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Mexico is the only country where the black bear is classed as endangered.

Black bears feature prominently in the stories of some of America’s indigenous peoples. One tale tells of how the black bear was a creation of the Great Spirit, while the grizzly was created by the Evil Spirit. In the mythology of the Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian people of the Northwest Coast, mankind first learned to respect bears when a girl married the son of black bear Chieftain. In Kwakiutl mythology, black and brown bears became enemies when Grizzly Bear Woman killed Black Bear Woman for being lazy. Black Bear Woman’s children, in turn, killed Grizzly Bear Woman’s own cubs. The Navajo believed that the Big Black Bear was chief among the bears of the four directions surrounding Sun’s house, and would pray to it in order to be granted its protection during raids.

Morris Michtom, the creator of the teddy bear, was inspired to make the toy when he came across a cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a black bear cub trapped up a tree. Winnie the Pooh was named after Winnipeg, a female black bear cub that lived at London Zoo from 1915 until her death in 1934. A black bear cub who in the spring of 1950 was caught in the Capitan Gap fire was made into the living representative of Smokey Bear, the mascot of the United States Forest Service.

Unlike grizzly bears, which became a subject of fearsome legend among the European settlers of North America, black bears were rarely considered overly dangerous, even though they lived in areas where the pioneers had settled. Black bears rarely attack when confronted by humans, and usually limit themselves to making mock charges, emitting blowing noises and swatting the ground with their forepaws. However, according to Stephen Herrero in his Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, 23 people were killed by black bears from 1900 to 1980. The number of black bear attacks on humans is higher than those of the brown bear, though this is largely because the black species outnumbers the brown rather than them being more aggressive.

For more information, to include conservation efforts, visit both The North American Bear Center and The Great Bear Foundation.

This is one of my early efforts with digital art. A bear wandering near low mountains; perhaps in Wyoming or Montana. If you have never been to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest I highly recommend you spend some time there.

In reality, with the amount of snow on the mountains, there would lilely be some on the ground as well, but it was just an experiments and I like the colors.

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Bear and Mountain

Bear and Mountain

I made this image with a graphics application by the name of Project Dogwaffle. If you want to try your hand at digital art you might give it a look. You can start with a free version which has all the basic features you will need. It is fairly intuitive to use, there are a number of tutorials available, as well as a helpful users community. I would also suggest you acquire a graphics pad/tablet. Much easier than trying to draw with a mouse.

Ice Edge

A new post for Darkcember 1. I like trying night scenes; often polar bears on the winter ice pack. Some day I’ll get it just right. This one is pretty good. A peaceful moment in the long polar night. A Polar Bear rests at the edge of an open area in the pack ice.The Northern Lights glow in the distance; bright stars twinkle overhead.

As always, I can not emphasize enough that Polar Bear could be extinct in the wild by the end of this century, if not well before.  Contact Polar Bears International (see links below), or other conservation organizations to help prevent this.

The image is available on a number of products at my online store

Click on image for full-size view.

A male polar bear rests at the edge of the winter ice pack

Last Ice

Polar bear campaign seeks ‘last ice’ Arctic preserve

The plight of the polar bear is so dire due to the shrinking of sea ice crucial to its habitat that some scientists are musing about moving them to a “last ice area” in the high Arctic.

The belief is that polar bear survival is reaching a tipping point because of the retreating sea ice. Currently, there are 150 to 160 ice-free days in the Arctic each year. Once that number reaches 170, Andrew Derocher, a University of Alberta polar bear researcher, frets the bear population will decline by up to 40 per cent.

That prediction has Derocher calling for drastic action.

“It’s very clear that populations in the southern regions of the polar bear range are going to disappear,” argues Derocher. “The best thing we can do is have areas set aside where they can live relatively undisturbed.”

And it isn’t just academics who are worried. Soft drink giant Coca-Cola is teaming up with the World Wildlife Fund to raise awareness about the Arctic icon’s fate.

This Christmas, Coke will change 94 million of its iconic red cans to white to raise awareness about the fate of the polar bear. The company will also donate up to $3 million to WWF over the next five years.

Coca-Cola is supporting World Wildlife Fund projects to preserve polar bear habitat with special soft drink cans that will be available around Christmas.

“They [WWF] bring the know-how to us on what needs to be done. And it’s science-based. And we bring them the reach and the marketing on how to create awareness of the program,” said Nicola Kettlitz, president of Coca-Cola Canada.
Ice reserve

The money is going to fund two WWF efforts. One will be a series of conservation projects in the North. The other will focus on the science of sea-ice retreat and pin-pointing the location of the last year-round ice. This will be where the WWF hopes to create a “last ice area,” a final natural home for wild polar bears.

The most likely spot for the ice reserve is near the northern tips of Ellesmere Island and Greenland. When a final location is agreed upon, industry will need to be told what it can and cannot do in that area.

A “last ice area” may sound somewhat depressing, but WWF doesn’t think so.

“We look at it as one of the more optimistic things that has come out of the Arctic in a long time. I think it has been unfortunate that in the last 10 years most of the news about the Arctic has been bad,” said Gerald Butts, president and CEO of WWF Canada.

Three Bears

An original digital painting of a grizzly/brown bear. Looks best at the original size, approximately twenty-four inches wide.

Click on images for larger views.

Tundra grizzly original

With a bit of software processing it become s a poster.

Poster version

Processing another way gives this result.

Third version

Software makes some tasks quicker and easier, but you still have to be an artist to really make full use ot it.


The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is a subspecies of brown bear (Ursus arctos) that generally lives in the uplands of western North America. This subspecies is thought to descend from Ussuri brown bears which crossed to Alaska from Eastern Russia 100,000 years ago, though they did not move south until 13,000 years ago.

A grizzly searches for food high in the mountains as the last of the winter snow melts.

Image available at Treeline.

Click on image for full-size view.

A grizzly searches for food high in the mountains as the last of the winter snow melts.

Ursos arctos horribilis

 Grizzlies are normally solitary active animals, but in coastal areas the grizzly congregates alongside streams, lakes, rivers, and ponds during the salmon spawn. Every other year, females (sows) produce one to four young (commonly two) which are small and weigh only about one pound. A sow is protective of her offspring and will attack if she thinks she or her cubs are threatened.

 Brown bears are found in Asia, Europe and North America, giving them one of the widest ranges of bear species. The ancestors of the grizzly bear originated in Eurasia and traveled to North America approximately 50,000 years ago. This is a very recent event in evolutionary time, causing the North American grizzly bear to be very similar to the brown bears inhabiting Europe and Asia. In North America, grizzly bears previously ranged from Alaska to Mexico and as far east as the Hudson Bay area. In North America, the species is now found only in Alaska, south through much of western Canada, and into portions of the northwestern United States including Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming, extending as far south as Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, but is most commonly found in Canada. There may still be a small population in Colorado in the southern San Juan Mountains. In September 2007 a hunter produced evidence of grizzly bear rehabilitation in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem, in Idaho and western Montana, by killing a male grizzly bear. Its original range also included much of the Great Plains and the southwestern states, but it has been extirpated in most of those areas.

 In Canada there are approximately 25,000 grizzly bears occupying British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the northern part of Manitoba. Combining Canada and the United States, grizzly bears inhabit approximately half the area of their historical range. In British Columbia, grizzly bears inhabit approximately 90% of their original territory.

 The grizzly bear currently has legal protection in Mexico, European countries, some areas of Canada and in the United States. However, it is expected that the re-population of its former range will be a slow process, due equally to the ramifications of reintroducing such a large animal to areas which are prized for agriculture and livestock and also to the bear’s slow reproductive habits (bears invest a good deal of time in raising young). There are currently about 55,000 wild grizzly bears located throughout North America.

 Although grizzlies are of the order Carnivora and have the digestive system of carnivores, they are actually omnivores, since their diet consists of both plants and animals. They have been known to prey on large mammals, when available, such as moose, deer, sheep, elk, bison, caribou and even black bears. Grizzly bears feed on fish such as salmon, trout, and bass, and those with access to a more protein-enriched diet in coastal areas potentially grow larger than interior individuals. Grizzly bears also readily scavenge food, on carrion left behind by other animals

 The grizzly bears that reside in the American Rocky Mountains are not as large as Canadian or Alaskan grizzlies. This is due, in part, to the richness of their diet, which in Yellowstone consists mostly of whitebark pine nuts, as well as roots, tubers, grasses, various rodents, army cutworm moths and scavenged carcasses. None of these, however, match the fat content of the salmon available in Alaska and British Columbia.

 Plants make up approximately 80%–90% of a grizzly bears’ diet. Various berries make up a large portion of this. These can include blueberries, blackberries, salmon berries, cranberries, buffalo berries, and huckleberries, depending on the environment. Insects such as ladybugs, ants and bees are also eaten, but only if they are available in large quantities. At low quantities, the energy gained is not worth the foraging energy output. When food is abundant, grizzly bears will feed in groups, foraging together. For example, many grizzly bears will visit meadows right after there has been an avalanche or glacier slide. This is due to an influx of legumes, such as Hedysarum, which the grizzlies consume in massive amounts. When food sources become scarcer, however, they separate once again.

 In preparation for winter, bears can gain approximately 400 lb, during a period of hyperphagia, before going into a state of false hibernation. The bear often waits for a substantial snowstorm before it enters its den, such behaviour lessening the chances that predators will be able to locate the den. The dens themselves are typically located at elevations above 6,000 feet on northern-facing slopes. There is some debate amongst professionals as to whether grizzly bears technically hibernate. Much of the debate revolves around body temperature and the ability of the bears to move around during hibernation on occasion. Grizzly bears have the ability to “partially” recycle their body wastes during this period. In some areas where food is plentiful year round, grizzly bears skip hibernation altogether.

 The grizzly bear has several relationships with its ecosystem. One such relationship is a mutualistic relationship with fleshy-fruit bearing plants. After the grizzly consumes the fruit, the seeds are dispersed and excreted in a germinable condition. Some studies have shown that germination success is indeed increased as a result of seeds being deposited along with nutrients in feces. This makes the grizzly bear an important seed distributor in their habitat.

 While foraging for tree roots, plant bulbs, or ground squirrels, bears stir up the soil. This process not only helps grizzlies access their food, but it also increases species richness in alpine ecosystems. An area that contains both bear digs and undisturbed land has greater plant diversity than an area that contains just undisturbed land. Along with increasing species richness, soil disturbance causes nitrogen to be dug up from lower soil layers, and makes nitrogen more readily available in the environment. An area that has been dug by the grizzly bear has significantly more nitrogen than an undisturbed area.

 Nitrogen cycling is not only facilitated by grizzlies digging for food, it is also accomplished via their habit of carrying salmon carcasses into surrounding forests. It has been found that spruce tree foliage within 500 m of the stream where the salmon have been obtained, contains nitrogen originating from salmon the bears have preyed on. These nitrogen influxes to the forest are directly related to the presence of grizzly bears and salmon.

 Grizzlies directly regulate prey populations, and also help prevent overgrazing in forests by controlling the populations of other species in the food chain. An experiment in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA, showed that removal of wolves and grizzly bears caused populations of their herbivorous prey to increase. This in turn changed the structure and density of plants in the area, which decreased the population sizes of migratory birds. This provides evidence that grizzly bears represent a keystone predator, having a major influence on the entire ecosytem they inhabit.

To help preserve bears visit Great Bear Foundation

Mama Nose Best

Second in the series of Alaska postage stamps.  Nose to nose as a polar bear cub seeks reassurance from his mother.

As is true for a number of species, the polar bear is engangered.   For a history of polar bear-human interaction and the species’ present plight read On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear, by Richard Ellis.

To become in volved in conservation efforts contact the World Wildlife Fund (, Defenders of Wildlife (, or Polar Bears International (

Polar bear sow and cub