How To Identify

Which is it? Black bear or Grizzly bear?

Some brown bears have black fur while some black bears have brown fur, and there are even some blonde bears out there.   Watch the video and print and carry the guides to learn the difference between brown (grizzly) and black bears and what to do in the event of an attack. 

Black Bear vs Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear Track


Prominent shoulder hump
Dished facial profile
Short round ears
Long straight claws (3-4 inches)


between black and grizzly bears. Grizzly bears tend to be more aggressive but black bears can pose a danger as well. Use all the characteristics to properly identify a bear. Don’t just use color or size. Black bears are not necessarily all black, and grizzly bears are not always larger.

Black Bear Track


No prominent shoulder hump
Straight facial profile
Tall pointed ears
Short curved claws (1-2 inches)

Bear Habitat

Bears are on the move

Over time, grizzly bears have expanded to a larger swath of Western Wyoming and Montana. Bears are also known to exist outside of the area as well.

Bear Habitat over Time

WY Game and Fish

The Umbrella Effect

Coined by the grizzly bear conservation group Vital Ground, the term Umbrella effect is used to describe the effects that bears have on their habitat.

The impact on the plants and biodiversity in the habitat they occupy  – the Greater Yellowstone area, coasts of British Columbia and Alaska – is wide ranging. 


Ferocious as they seem, they are opportunistic omnivores. While the powerful scene of a grizzly bear dominating its prey is awesome, they just as much rely on plants, berries, and roots, to diversify their diet. Even the meat they eat is often from insects and small mammals. 

All this means that bears play a key role in balancing a sensitive ecosystem. Their digging up roots and grubs turns the soil. Their scat returns important nutrients back to the earth with little turnover time. And their simple presence keeps the elks and deer population in check, which in turn prevents over grazing. 

It’s in our best interest to understand how these bears improve the ecosystem in which they reside. That is why their effect can be seen as the umbrella effect. To learn more, visit Vital Ground’s website.

Vital Ground

Food Storage

Learn how to properly camp and store your gear to minimize problems with bears


What to do if a bear attacks

defensive vs predatory

Bears can act either a in defensive/aggressive manner, or a predatory manner. How the bear is acting should inform you how to react

Grizzly bear roar


Most bear encounters happen when the bear is trying to protect or defend their cubs, territory, or food. Typical bear in stress will exhibit:

  • stiff stance with ears pinned back
  • very vocal – moaning, roaring, etc
  • bluffing – will attempt to charge 
  • paw swatting


  • walk or back away slowly, do not run
  • remain calm
  • use your bear spray if it begins to approach
  • if contact is made, don’t fight back and lie down on your stomach and inter-lace your fingers and placing them on the back of your neck
Grizzly with claw out


Bears are predatory in nature. It is less common, but if you encounter a predatory bear, it’s usually interested in you as pray. They might be:

  • very interested and following you
  • not defending anything
  • no stress-like behaviors such as paw swatting or moanings


  • do not back away, stand your ground!
  • make yourself look big by putting your arms/jacket/pack over your head 
  • yell loudly 
  • fight back! don’t drop and cover
  • use your bear spray or any weapon

Get Involved

The Vital Ground Foundation – a land trust that conserves and connects habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife.

Vital Ground supports Bear Aware’s mission of educating hikers about bear safety and getting bear spray in as many hands as possible. These efforts effectively reduce fatal grizzly attacks and protect people and bears. Partnered together, Bear Aware spreads the Vital Ground message to bring awareness to the importance of bears in our ecosystem.


Vital Ground Foundation is working hard to ensure grizzly bears and other wildlife have access to habitat. Where Bear Aware protects bears from negative human-bear interactions, Vital Ground helps grizzlies thrive by protecting their habitat from development and destruction. This is an ongoing effort that can use your help!

Help the cause