The black bear dwells in much of the regions located in the United States, Northern Canada, Alaska and as far south as Mexico. It is estimated that there were once two million black bears roaming in the New World before European settlers reached its shores. However, as European colonization spread, the numbers of the black bear began to dwindle due to hunting and the destruction of their habitat. As the name suggests, black bears typically have black, shaggy fur. The males weigh between 100 to 300 pounds and measure up to six feet long and up to three feet tall. In comparison, females weigh between 100 to 175 pounds. Black bears have long, rake-like claws and walk on the soles of their feet. The black bear is the only species residing in Shenandoah National Park.
As a scavenger and predator, black bears play a major role in the ecosystem. There presence aids in keeping deciduous forests clean in many ways. When bears come out of hibernation in the spring, they will scavenge for food choosing animal carcasses left from the previous winter. In this way, black bears work to clear the forest floor of decaying debris. Black bears also help to influence the healthiness of a population within certain animals species. Since they stand at the top of the food chain, they can readily capture animals that are weak, injured, sick or old.
Black bears also play an important role within the ecosystem through their foraging activities. In addition to meat, they will eat just about anything they can find. As black bears rip apart logs, plants or snags to find insects, they may not only hasten the decomposition of forest wood, but also help to control insect populations. Furthermore, black bears play a part in the dispersion of seeds of various plants and trees as they consume roots, flowers, grasses, fruits, berries, herbs, nuts and acorns. Since they are very adaptable to diverse types of environments, the deciduous forest benefits from the continual germination and expansion of many of its vegetation.
Unfortunately, the American black bear’s existence is threatened by man. Black bears are being poached to supply the Asian demand for their paws and galls which is used for medicinal purposes in Korea, China and Japan. To squelch illegal trading and poaching of the black bear, a treaty was passed among over 120 nations to protect illegal killing and trading of wildlife and their products across international boundaries. It is apparent that the delicate cycle of the ecosystem would be greatly affected without the black bear’s presence. It plays a major role in how environmental requirements are met within the deciduous forest.