Wisconsin is located in the northern United States within the Great Lakes region. In the northern portion of the state, it has abundant forests and beaches that meet Lake Superior.
It’s a popular state for outdoor recreation activities. If you’re looking to explore the wild lands of Wisconsin, you might be thinking about visiting the northern half of the state.
Just off the northern Wisconsin coast, you’ll find the Apostle Islands. Located in Lake Superior, these islands make up an archipelago of more than 20 islands with scenic views, various wildlife, historic lighthouses, and sea caves.
Common activities around the Apostle Islands include kayaking, boating, sailing, camping, and hiking. Another popular place to visit for hiking and camping is the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. It’s a mixed coniferous-deciduous forest that houses several different types of trees and includes wetlands.
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a 1,200-mile trail that allows you to roam along the edge of what was once a glacier that covered the majority of North America 15,000 years ago. It travels throughout several regions in Wisconsin.
With so much to see and explore, visitors might have one lingering question:
Are there bears in Wisconsin? How common are Wisconsin bear attacks?
Black bears are the only type of bear found in Wisconsin. While brown- or cinnamon-furred black bears are sometimes mistaken for grizzly bears, grizzlies are not found in the state of Wisconsin. The bear population in Wisconsin is healthy and kept under control by a regular hunting season, and while sightings are quite common, bear attacks in Wisconsin are extraordinarily rare and should be of little concern to most outdoor adventurers.
Let’s learn more about the bears found in Wisconsin, bear attacks, and more!
Types of Bears Found in Wisconsin
While you’re in Wisconsin, especially in the northern region, it’s a big possibility that you’ll see a variety of wildlife. Some of the most common creatures that roam about the state include white-tailed deer, wolves, moose, and red foxes.
Spotting a bear while hiking or traveling around the northern and central portions of the state is also common.
The American black bear is the only type of bear species in the state of Wisconsin. Its increasing population is making it more common to see these creatures roaming closer to the southern region as well.
Whether you’re exploring the Northwoods of the national park, the Apostle Islands, or trekking along the Ice Age Trail, you might catch a glimpse of an American black bear.
Continue reading to learn more about American black bears in Wisconsin, including where they’re commonly sighted and the likelihood of seeing one!
American Black Bear
American black bears are the most widely distributed bear species in North America. The total black bear population in North America is estimated to be around 750,000.
Most black bears are easily identifiable by their black fur and brown-colored snout. They’re medium-sized and are considered small compared to other bear species in North America.
There are 16 subspecies of American black bear and each has slight differences in genetics, size, skeletal structure, or color.
The scientific name of black bears found in Wisconsin and in the eastern half of the U.S. is Ursus americanus americanus. It’s one of the most common and widespread subspecies.
Some black bears can have brown, blonde, cinnamon, or even white fur. Black bears with brown or cinnamon fur are often mistaken for brown bears, or grizzlies. However, grizzlies are much larger and have prominent shoulder humps, unlike black bears.
Most black bears in Wisconsin reside in the northern region of the state, but their increasing population is drawing them south.
Appearance and Size of Black Bears in Wisconsin
Black bears in Wisconsin have black fur with a brown muzzle. Juveniles may go through color changes as they grow into adults. Sometimes black bear cubs can have dark brown fur. Some adults have a white patch of fur on their chest.
Other fur colors, such as brown or blonde, are more common in western American black bear populations.
Black bears aren’t as large as other North American bears, like grizzlies. Larger adults can reach up to 550 pounds in Wisconsin.
However, smaller adults may only grow to be about 125 pounds. Adult female black bears are almost always smaller than adult males.
American black bears have non-retractable claws, which may be identified in their tracks. They have flat feet with five toes and claws on each toe. Their claws come in handy when climbing trees or tearing logs apart in search of food.
Wisconsin Black Bear Distribution and Population
Most of the black bears in Wisconsin reside in the northern half of the state. They aren’t as abundant in central Wisconsin, but are still fairly common in this area.
Increased populations within the state have led to more black bears wandering outside of their original range. Some black bears are now being sighted more in Wisconsin’s southern regions. Before humans settled down in Wisconsin long ago, black bears used to roam all over the state.
The Apostle Islands are known to have a great concentration of black bears. Since they love swimming, black bears are often spotted swimming between the islands. Oak, Sand, and Stockton are three of the Apostle Islands archipelago that black bears frequent.
The American black bear population has grown significantly in the past few decades. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates that the 2022 black bear population is around 24,000 individuals. This is a huge leap compared to the population of about 9,000 in 1989.
Wisconsin is a desirable state for these bears to live in because of their preferred habitat. It provides forest and wetland habitats. These areas provide bears with a wide variety of foods that range in availability between different seasons.
Females may have a home range up to 15 square miles, while male home ranges are much larger. Black bears pick a home range that has an abundance of food and a water source. Tree coverage is an important addition, as it gives them protection from predators.
Black bears can sometimes be seen traveling across a road, but this isn’t common behavior. Most try to avoid areas that have a lot of roads. Black bears will occasionally travel outside of their home range in search of food. Human activities can influence their behaviors and habitat selection if food or trash is left outside.
Diet and Food Habits
Black bears consume different foods depending on the season. Berries, fruits, and insects are their favorite foods that appear during the spring and summer. They like to feed on various types of vegetation in early spring, when berries or fruits may not be as readily available yet.
Many of their food sources disappear as winter comes around. However, some black bears might hold off on entering their dormant state if they find food easily. Trash left outside often encourages black bears to continue roaming around as late as November.
American black bears are common visitors to some Wisconsin residents’ backyards. If garbage is left outside, it can attract bears because of their wonderful sense of smell. They might also try to steal seed from bird feeders.
During the fall, when food becomes scarce, these bears might eat smaller mammals. American black bears are omnivores, but they enjoy eating berries and vegetation most when it’s available.
Black Bear Hunting and Hibernation Season in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has a black bear management plan set in place to help control the population. This includes allowing hunters to harvest black bears in the fall for a defined period of time.
Hunting season times vary depending on which zone one is located in. Zones A, B, and D are located in northern Wisconsin. Zone C encompasses central Wisconsin. The southwestern and southeastern regions of the state include Zones E and F.
Hunting seasons for most zones start around the first week of September and end in the first or second week of October. Some hunting restrictions may apply to specific zones.
Black bears in Wisconsin usually start entering dens around October. Some might stay out as late as November if they’re still able to find food easily.
They limit their activity during the late fall and winter due to decreasing temperatures and lack of food. This state of reduced activity is called torpor. It’s commonly referred to as hibernation, but black bears don’t fully hibernate like some other animals in the winter.
Black bears can slow their heart rate and metabolism down, which allows them to use their stored fat to slowly produce enough calories for their body to use.
While in the den, female black bears give birth to a litter of up to six cubs. The average number of cubs in one litter is usually two or three. Females typically give birth once every two years because their cubs stay with them for an extra year after birth before becoming independent.
Bear Encounters & Attacks in Wisconsin
Black bear encounters in Wisconsin are fairly common, depending on where you’re located or visiting. There are also certain times of the year when bear sightings occur more frequently.
During the early spring, black bears begin to emerge from their dens. Young male cubs that are ready to be on their own may wander far and wide to establish their own territory. Hungry females and cubs venture out to find emerging vegetation and other food sources.
Spottings might spike again in the middle of summer between June and August because of the mating season.
Males may travel farther outside of their home range in search of a mate. Food availability may also affect where sightings occur.
In the spring and early summer of 2022, one local Wisconsin news station received numerous photos and videos of black bear sightings in surrounding areas of Wausau in central Wisconsin. Many of the sightings were reported in residential areas.
If you’re hiking or camping in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, it’s a possibility you might see a black bear. They might also be seen hanging around the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. More sightings may occur in central and southern Wisconsin in residential areas with easily accessible food.
Black bears can be a beautiful sight, but their size and space should be respected. Although they’re generally not aggressive creatures, they could feel more threatened in certain situations. Females may become aggressive if they have cubs as a means of protection.
In May 2022, a couple in Wisconsin reported that a black bear eating from their bird feeder had become aggressive after they shouted at it in hopes it’d leave. The bear allegedly charged through a window of the couple’s home before they killed it out of defense.
In northwestern Wisconsin, a black bear attacked a hunter in October 2018. The bear was reported to be more than 350 pounds and caused the hunter to need stitches.
Despite these incidents, black bear attacks in Wisconsin are very uncommon.
Black bears in Wisconsin are fairly abundant. Most of the bear population is located in the northern half of the state. The increasing population has caused more sightings to occur in the central and southern portions of Wisconsin.
Although attacks have occurred, they’re rare and black bears aren’t aggressive creatures. They’re very solitary and are often frightened by the sight of humans.
If you do run into a Wisconsin bear that seems aggressive, simply back away slowly. If possible, make yourself seem large by extending your arms or jacket.
The possibility of seeing a black bear in Wisconsin is higher in the northern region in forest and wetland habitats. Visiting during the late fall and winter will decrease your chances of seeing a black bear. Most are dormant in a den by this time.
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Hope this helps!