A Face-to-Face Encounter in Black Bear Habitat

David Peterson spends the afternoon in the presence of black bears, sharing information on black bear habitat, black bear species, it's history and habits.

| May/June 1986

David Peterson spent the afternoon surrounded by a family of black bears, enthralled by their presence yet fearful for his safety. 

A Face-to-Face Encounter in Black Bear Habitat

I was slipping quietly through the white heart of a park-like grove of quaking aspen when a roundish bundle of chocolate fur emerged from a thicket of Gambel oak a few yards to my left and came waddling my way. The creature appeared to be neither canine, feline, nor bovine, and though it was about the size of a large badger, the shape and coloration were wrong.

What it was, I soon saw, was a black bear cub, its chubby body swaying from side to side like a ship in heavy seas as it bobbed along atop stubby, bowed legs.

Then, just a few seconds in the wake of the first, a second cub burst from the brush . . . and a third from the black bear habitat. And all three of the little rascals were headed right for me, with the intrepid leader now just a few feet away.

I was thrilled — though somewhat distracted by a most pressing curiosity: Where is Momma bear, and how big is she?

The matron didn't keep me waiting long, making her entrance from the black bear habitat a few moments later from behind a curtain of aspen saplings a score or so yards uphill and, fortunately, upwind. Hump-shouldered and autumn fat, the mother bear was by far the most beautiful specimen of Ursus americanus I'd ever seen, more closely resembling a small grizzly than your typical, postcard-variety black bear. Most significantly, she wasn't black. Her head, legs, and ample rump were patched with the same chocolate brown that completely clothed the cubs, but her back was a broad swath of straw blond that took on a mottled appearance as she moved through the scattered shafts of golden sunlight fingering down through the aspens.

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