Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Black bears (Ursus americanus) were historically abundant across Indiana, excluding the northwest portions of the state dominated by prairie. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss caused black bears to be extirpated from Indiana and much of the Midwest by 1850. Today, black bear populations are expanding and they may pass through Indiana from established populations in adjacent states. In recent years, four black bears have been confirmed (2015, 2016, 2018, 2021) in Indiana.
- Black bears are typically black with a tan muzzle, though farther West coloration can vary to brown and cinnamon.
- Black bears have a long snout, rounded ears, and small eyes.
- Typically, males weigh 150-400 pounds and females weigh 100-250 pounds.
- Black bears are omnivorous, feeding on grass, seeds, berries, insects, rodents, and deceased animals.
- Black bears are intelligent and have a keen sense of smell and hearing.
- Black bears are generally timid and not aggressive toward people.
Black bears were once an exotic species, and are now protected under Indiana Administrative Code 312 IAC 9-3-18.8.
- Indiana black bear encounters
Before 2015, when a black bear entered the state at the Michigan border, the last confirmed report of a black bear in Indiana was in 1871. In June 2015, wildlife biologists with the Indiana DNR verified the presence of a black bear in St. Joseph County. The bear was believed to be a young male. It spent most of the next five months in Indiana and was last reported in the state on Oct. 13, 2015. In March 2016, the bear emerged from its winter den in Michigan and, unfortunately, exhibited habituated behaviors, including a loss of fear of humans. Based on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (MI DNR) “Problem Bear Management Guidelines,” such behaviors are considered a threat to public safety. Consequently, the MI DNR trapped and humanely euthanized the bear on April 9, 2016.
In July 2016, a black bear was confirmed in southern Indiana in Harrison, Washington, and Clark counties. Through reports received from Hoosiers and biologists, this bear was remotely monitored as it traveled north toward Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, where it overwintered. The following spring this bear then moved back south toward Harrison County. It is believed that this bear had crossed back into Kentucky in the summer of 2017.
In November 2018, a black bear was hit by a motor vehicle on Interstate 64 in Floyd County. The injured bear wandered into heavy brush after the accident. One week later, reports from a Hoosier with trail camera evidence confirmed that this bear had traveled north, near Memphis, Indiana. It is believed that this bear later succumbed to injuries from the accident.
In June 2021, a black bear crossed into Indiana from Illinois. Reports of the bear from private landowners were confirmed in Vanderburgh, Warrick, Gibson, Pike, and Daviess counties. The last confirmed sighting was in Pike County on July 8. On July 19, the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources confirmed a black bear in Henderson County near Indiana’s border. Because Kentucky’s wildlife agency had not recorded a black bear in the western part of the state that summer and no additional confirmed reports were received in Indiana, it is believed Indiana’s bear crossed over to Kentucky during July 2021.
In August 2021, a deceased black bear was found in Elkhart County. The bear was discovered near a toll road in an advanced state of decomposition. A CT scan was performed on the bear, and it was determined that the injuries sustained by the bear were consistent with trauma from a vehicle collision. It is unclear how this bear came to Indiana.
- If you see a black bear
- Enjoy it from a distance.
- Do not climb a tree. Wait in a vehicle or building for the bear to leave the area.
- Advertise your presence by shouting and waving your arms and backing slowly away.
- Never attempt to feed or attract bears.
- Report bear sightings to the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife
- Living with bears
Residents in many states coexist peacefully with black bears by giving bears space and keeping attractants (food sources) secure. The goal is to prevent conflict by discouraging bears from associating humans and human dwellings with food. To reduce or eliminate conflict with bears, practice the following if bears are present in your area:
- DO remove bird feeders and bird food from late March through November.
- DO clean and store grills away after use.
- DO eliminate food attractants by placing garbage cans inside a garage or shed.
- DO pick ripe fruits and vegetables ASAP, or place an electric fence around them, to ensure bear cannot reach them.
- DON'T intentionally feed bears. Bears that become accustomed to finding food near your home may become “problem” bears.
- DON'T leave pet food outside overnight.
- DON'T add meat or sweets to a compost pile.
REMEMBER: Black bears are rarely aggressive toward humans. Most problems arise when bears associate food with humans. Do not feed bears; doing so increases the likelihood of negative bear-human interactions. Thank you for your help keeping our wildlife wild.
- Aug. 20, 2021 - Dead black bear found on Elkhart County roadside
- June 27, 2021 - Black bear confirmed in Vanderburgh County
- Nov. 11, 2018 - Black bear hit by motor vehicle near New Albany
- July 18, 2016 - DNR confirms black bear report in southern Indiana.
- July 17, 2015 - Black bear to be trapped and relocated.
- June 15, 2015 - Black bear continues westward path in northern Indiana.
- June 12, 2015 - Wandering black bear confirmed in St. Joseph County.