Proper Outdoor Ethics for Bear Country

A black bear warns kayakers that they are too close.

A black bear warns kayakers that they are too close.

Notice the folded back ears.


"Bears keep me humble. They help me to keep the world in perspective and to understand where I fit on the spectrum of life. We need to preserve the wilderness and its monarchs for ourselves, and for the dreams of children. We should fight for these things as if our life depended upon it, because it does."
- Wayne Lynch (from Bears: Monarchs of the Northern Wilderness, 1993)

Humans have strongly altered the world bears once knew. Brown bears once flourished from Alaska to Mexico, from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Plains. Now they are extinct in Mexico and exist in only 2% of their historic range in the Lower 48 [1]. Black bears, which once existed in every state except Hawaii, have been extirpated from much of their historic range, especially in the Midwest and in significant portions of Mexico [2].

Brown bear habitat in 1850's:

Brown bear habitat at end of 20th century:

Credit: Vital Ground from (used by permission)

Additionally, the other six species of bears in the world are all threatened with extinction [3].

The wild coastal rainforests of Alaska afford the opportunity to visit some of the few places in the world where bear populations have not been dramatically impacted by human activity -- yet. We must take responsiblity, respect these magnificent creatures and successfully steward the habitat they need. Learning the appropriate ethics for conducting ourselves in bear country is fundamental to fulfilling this obligation and keeping our bears - both brown and black - wild and healthy.

Cultivate your ethics for bear country by reading and discussing the following:

The need for proper ethics in bear country is not unique to Alaska. We must be responsible wherever bears may be. We must ensure that wild bears remain wild, that people-habituated bears do not become food-conditioned and that depleted populations do not suffer from additional stressors.

“It would be fitting, I think, if among the last manmade tracks on earth would be found the huge footprints of the great brown bear.”- Earl Fleming (American naturalist, 1958)


  1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Ursus arctos Brown Bear: Geographic Range Information. Retrieved 7.Apr.2010 from:
  2. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Ursus americanus American Black Bear: Geographic Range Information. Retrieved 7.Apr.2010 from:
  3. IUCN Press Release (12.Nov.2007). Seventy-five percent of bear species threatened with extinction. Retrieved 7.Apr.2010 from: