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Grizzly bear

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Grizzly bears are extremely rare in Washington and need our help to recover.

A grizzly sow and two cubs photographed in 2012 in northeast Washington. Photo WDFW
A grizzly sow and two cubs photographed in 2012 in northeast Washington. Photo WDFW

Ursus arctos

Grizzly bears are intelligent, strong, courageous – and adaptable. They have lived in North America, including the North Cascades, British Columbia's Coast to Cascades, and Selkirks of Washington, for thousands of years. Along with mountain caribou and wolverines, they are animals who survived the last great ice ages on the North American continent.

Learn about the threatened North Cascades grizzly bear

Populations and protection status

Persecuted and hunted nearly to extinction in the last two centuries, the history of grizzly bears is a sobering one.

In the U.S., the grizzly bear is listed as threatened and there are only five populations remaining in the Lower 48; including the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Northern Continental Divide area around Glacier National Park, and the Cabinent-Yaak Mountains of northwest Montana. The Bitteroot Mountains of eastern Idaho and western Montana are also designated as a grizzly bear recovery zone, however this area does not contain any grizzlies at this time. 

The other two remaining grizzly populations overlap into Washington state, including approximately 80 grizzly bears in the Selkirk Mountains of northeastern Washington, northwestern Idaho and southeastern British Columbia. In the U.S. North Cascades, it's believed there are fewer than 20 grizzly bears remaining, with an estimated six bears living on the Canadian side of the Cascade range. 

Learn about our work in B.C. on the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative.

There have also been confirmed grizzly sightings in the last decade near Cheshaw in Okanogan County and in the "wedge" area of Stevens County between the Kettle and Columbia Rivers. 

Grizzly bear news ~ Grizzly bear timeline ~ What you can do for bears

What we are doing

Because grizzly bears are habitat generalists and disturbance sensitive animals with large home ranges, their conservation benefits dozens of other wildlife and sensitive habitats, from low-elevation wetlands to subalpine berry fields. Indicators of ecosystem health, grizzly bears mold their habitat in subtle but important ways.

Conservation Northwest has worked to protect and recover grizzly bears across the Canadian border and in Washington since our founding in 1989. Today we are protecting and connecting grizzly bear populations and habitat in British Columbia and the US. Without these bears, the health of our ecosystems and wilderness areas would be severely diminished. 

Footage of bear-wolf interactions in Yellowstone. More about grizzly bears.

More about grizzly bears

  • Do you know how to prevent unwanted interactions with bears? Get tips for living in bear country from Western Wildlife Outreach.
  • Do you hike in bear country? Learn how to keep your backcountry camp bear safe from Washington Trails Association.
  • Adult grizzly bears usually live to 20 to 25 years of age.
  • Females do not reproduce until they are 5-6 years old, giving birth to 1-3 cubs per breeding cycle. Grizzly bear cubs remain with their mother for 2-4 years.
  • Female bears usually require 50-300 square miles of range; males need 200-500 square miles. Ranges of individual bears often overlap, with several bears sharing an area.
  • Grizzly bears have good eyesight (about like that of a person) but excellent senses of hearing and smell (better than that of a dog).
  • Grizzly bears are intelligent and curious—and have an excellent memory, particularly regarding food sources.
  • As opportunistic omnivores, outside of western Alaska and British Columbia,  grizzly bears have a typical diet of less than 10% fish or meat, much of that carrion from winter-killed deer and elk. Grizzly bears in coastal areas are an exception: for these bears, fish (mostly salmon) comprise a larger proportion of their diet. 
  • The grizzly bear’s claws are used mainly for digging roots. Grizzly summer foods include thistle, cow parsnip, roots, mushrooms, wild berries, spawning fish, and insects, including ants.
  • Grizzlies are linked to wolves - the carrion of deer and elk killed by wolves is an important source of food for grizzly bears.
  • Grizzlies are incorrectly portrayed as voracious. In fact, they are normally reclusive creatures who act aggressively toward humans only in specific situations, usually when they feel startled or threatened by human actions, generally around bear cubs or food sources.
  • Grizzly bears differ from black bears by their prominent shoulder hump, longer claws, shorter ears, and a dish-faced profile. Black bears are also much more common. For example, the North Cascades of Washington has likely fewer than 10 grizzly bears but as many as 6,000 black bears.
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