NC State Extension Publications

Habitat Requirements

Black bears are present in the southern Appalachian Mountains and the coastal bays and swamps of North Carolina. The best habitat is provided in old forests dominated by hardwoods containing a variety of mast-producing tree and shrub species. Bears typically require extensive, rugged country with dense thickets, swamps, bays, or rock outcrops, and room to travel widely with little contact with agriculture or livestock production areas. Bears occasionally will cause damage in livestock operations, apple orchards, cornfields or by feeding on the inner bark of some desired tree species.


Black bears are omnivorous. The bulk of their diet is hard and soft mast, insects, animal matter and succulent plants. The amount and types of food eaten by bears varies according to seasonal activities and food availability.

Common black bear foods.
Pre-denning (August - November)
Hard mast Blackgum
Holly berries Black cherry
Dogwood berries Sassafrass
Persimmon Insects
Animals Pokeberry
Denning* (December - March)
* some bears may be active throughout the winter denning season
Hard mast Greenbrier
Corn Gallberries
Post-denning (April - May)
Arrow arum Greenbrier
Grasses Pokeberry
Squaw root Tree cambium
Insects Animals
Breeding (June - July)
Blackberry Huckleberry
Blueberry Serviceberry
Viburnum Insects


Bear have keen senses of smell and hearing, but their vision is less acute. Near areas of human activity, they often bed down in dense thickets in daytime and do much of their moving at sunrise and sunset. Small bears sometimes use trees for resting places. Bears go into winter dormancy from December through March in the southern Appalachians.

Escape Cover

  • Rugged terrain such as steep, rocky, mountainous slopes
  • Mountainsides laced with laurel, rhododendron, grapes, greenbrier or other thickets
  • Extensive areas with minimal human disturbance
  • Large swamps with dense briars and canes, stream channels and standing water
  • Carolina bays and pocosins

The most important element of escape cover is protection from people, dogs, and off-road vehicles.


Bears require water daily. Two or more sources of permanent open water per square mile of range should be available.

Home Range

Typical black bear densities range from one bear per square mile to one bear per seven square miles. The home range of bears in the Southeast ranges from 6 to 19 square miles for females to 18 to 160 square miles for males. Home ranges must include den sites, food, water and cover for adults and young. Home ranges and bear densities may vary considerably depending on available food sources. Mast shortages may result in considerable wandering, so other important fall and winter foods should be maintained at high levels to deter movement into areas where bears are more vulnerable or troublesome.

Tips for Improving Black Bear Habitat


  • Provide large expanses of mature forest, predominantly mast-producing hardwood
  • Protect streamside zones


  • Manage for long rotations in hardwood types (60 years or more)
  • Limit harvesting to 25 acre stands or less
  • Retain bottomland hardwood and swamp sites


  • Avoid extensive clearcutting and seed tree regeneration methods
  • Regenerate no more than 10% of total management area in a 10 year period

Intermediate Treatments

  • Thin occasionally to encourage crown growth, yet avoid frequent disturbances, limit use of herbicides
  • Burn frequently (3 to 5 years) to encourage herbaceous growth

Direct Improvements

  • Retain trees with large cavities and retain sheltering stems around openings
  • Plant open areas with fruiting shrubs or grains
  • Plant or encourage growth of fruit and nut trees
  • Select and retain large diameter trees with potential to develop large cavities
  • Limit access and disturbance to management area

Species That Benefit From Black Bear Management

Numerous game and nongame species benefit from black bear management. Rather than focusing on a single species, habitat management plans should emphasize the communities which include black bears. The following species benefit from black bear management:

  • Gray squirrel
  • Raccoon
  • White-tailed deer
  • Wood duck
  • Great-horned owl
  • American redstart
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Ruffed grouse


Graduate Research Assistant
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Extension Forestry Specialist
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Associate Director and State Program Leader, ANR and CRD

Publication date: Jan. 1, 1994

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.