Black Bears

Photo of a black bear standing on a gravel beach yawning with its tongue extended.

NPS Photo / J. Mills


While the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the most common bear species in North America, seeing one in Lake Clark is a rare treat. On this stretch of the Alaska Peninsula they are outnumbered by their their larger brethren, the brown bears, and thus their choice of habitat is usually one that keeps them away from competition with that much larger species.

In a land where winter can last six or more long months, black bears can only survive if they can build up enough fat stores for the long hibernation. In Lake Clark, food is far more abundant in the coastal areas where sedges growing in salt marshes provide an abundant early-season source of protein. Therefore, it is not surprising that we find more black bears living in the coastal areas than the interior of the park. Biologists conducting aerial surveys estimate 136 black bears per 1000km2 on the coast, whereas the density is closer to 77 black bears/1000km2 inland.

Brown bears dominate the prime feeding grounds in the coastal salt marshes; however, we do see black bears using the more secluded sections on occasion. They are most likely the largest boars, and even so, they stay higher near the tree line where they can escape to cover if need be. In the spring the rest of their diets consists of roots and other edible shoots. Some black bears take advantage of newly born moose calves, and are at times, and in some areas, their greatest predator. As summer progresses, feeding shifts to salmon if they are available without having conflict with brown bears. Berries are an important late summer-fall food. Ants, grubs, and other insects help to round out the black bear's diet.

Unlike other areas of Alaska, the black bears here are predominately black in color. Even so, it is safest to use other physical characteristics when attempting to identify a bear in the field. Remember, black bears are wild animals and can be dangerous. Follow some basic guidelines to stay safe in bear country.

  • A man stands with his back towards the photographer watching a brown bear sow and 2 cubs in a meadow
    Brown Bear Viewing in Lake Clark

    Watch "A Day on the Lake Clark National Park Coastline," learn where to go see bears, & become familiar with bear viewing best practices.

  • Two fishermen watch a brown bear on the opposite side of the river.
    Fishing in Bear Country

    Familiarize yourself with the responsibilities that come with fishing in bear country prior to your trip to Lake Clark.

  • Staying Safe in Bear Country

    Bears and people use the same areas in Lake Clark. Become familiar with these tips for staying safe in bear country prior to your trip.

  • Photo of a brown bear walking along a beach with a foggy forest in the background.
    Lake Clark's Brown Bears

    Discover how different the lives of Lake Clark's coastal & interior brown bears really are and see what this means for you.

  • An American black bear taking a drink. The bear and the yellow fall foliage reflect in the water.
    Bear Identification

    Both brown bears and American black bears flourish in Lake Clark. Knowing the difference can help you make safe choices in bear country.

  • photo of a spotted wild cat called a lynx standing in a forest looking at the photographer.
    Animals in Lake Clark

    Lynx and eagles and bears; oh my! Lake Clark's intact ecosystems support a full complement of sub-arctic fish and wildlife species.

Last updated: August 15, 2016

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