Black bears may roam higher elevations within the Tonto National Forest

Black bear A black bear in its natural habitat
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife)

The black bear is the only bear species still found in Arizona. It is the smallest and most widely distributed North American bear.

Their breeding period is in July and cubs generally are born the following January in winter dens. Black bears normally hibernate from November through March.

Within the state, black bears live in most forest, woodland and chaparral habitats, and desert riparian areas, primarily at elevations from 4,000 to 10,000 feet. They generally roam an area of 7 to 50 square miles.

Hikers and other members of the public recreating at higher elevations may come in contact with black bears, which are most active at dawn and dusk. To minimize bear encounters, people should adhere to the following precautions:

  • Do not feed bears
  • Do not store food in sleeping areas
  • Secure human food, pet food, scented toiletries, and trash in animal proof dumpsters, food storage containers, and/or trashcans provided in some developed recreation sites
  • Travel in groups
  • Keep kids close and pets leashed
  • Make noise
  • Carry an easily accessible, Environmental Protection Agency-registered bear pepper spray that you know how to use

However, being outdoors means that people may encounter a bear. The following tips may help discourage an approaching bear.

  • Alter your route to avoid a bear in the distance
  • If the bear continues approaching…
    • Make yourself as large and imposing as possible
    • Stand upright and wave your arms, jacket or other items
    • Make loud noises, such as yelling, whistles, and banging pots and pans
  • Do not run and never play dead
  • Give the bear a chance to leave the area
  • If the bear does not leave, stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away

Black bears usually avoid people yet if they start associating people with food, they may become aggressive. If a black bear attacks, do the following:

  • Fight back with everything in your power – fists, sticks, rocks and EPA-registered bear pepper spray

People can call 911 to report a situation with a bear or contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department at (623) 236-7201. Department personnel remove bears that present an imminent threat to human safety. The department also offers Living with Wildlife brochures that are available for downloading on the Arizona Game & Fish website.