Are bears aggressive in spring?

February 13, 2010 - 7:10 PM CST

One of Lily’s Facebook Fans asked if Lily and other bears will be extra aggressive when coming out of dens in spring.  The simple answer is “No.”

We often hear words like ‘aggressive’ or’ bold’ applied to bears and wonder what people mean and why we don’t see the same behavior.  Often, the mere fact that a bear is seen—especially in daylight—is interpreted as a bear being aggressive or bold.  People are especially sensitive to seeing a bear where bears haven’t been seen for many years.  The shock of seeing a bear brings an emotional response colored by hunting magazine covers, snarling taxidermy, and warnings written by government attorneys worried about liability problems—all are efforts to paint bears as aggressive, angry, and prone to attack.  None of which is true.

The attitude people assign to a bear is usually a reflection of the person’s attitude about bears.

For example:

A mountain bike rider came upon a mother with 2 cubs on a trail.  The cubs scrambled up a nearby tree while the mother sat in the trail and looked at the rider.  She didn’t blow, chomp, pounce, or slap.  She did nothing.  She just looked.  However, the story the rider told was of an aggressive problem bear that ‘stared him down.’  He pushed his bike through the woods to get around her, and—instead of chalking the encounter up to ‘life in bear country’— he rode home angered at the impudence of a bear that ‘didn’t run.’

To us, sitting calmly near the tree her cubs were in didn’t sound aggressive at all.

We hear the same from wildlife officials.  If a bear comes into a yard to get birdseed—especially if it breaks the birdfeeder in the process—it’s a problem bear.  If it shows nervousness by blowing or pouncing, it’s deemed aggressive.  To us, that’s normal bear behavior, especially if food is scarce in the woods.   It’s not a sign of aggression.

We believe there should be a more realistic vocabulary about bears and a better understanding of what is normal bear behavior.

Big thanks to the 212 of you who’ve already downloaded the North American Bear Center toolbar!  Simply using the toolbar for your normal web searches and online shopping will generate income for the NABC.

Lily memorabilia is on the way.  We’re very close to having coffee mugs, mouse pads, and Lily photos for sale in the NABC webstore.  Watch for an announcement soon!

As we put the finishing touches on this update, Lily’s cub is softly cooing and waving one foot about.  Simple pleasures.

—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, North American Bear Center