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Bear Facts (WSJCANC)

TopicHabitat and Management - Species and Habitat Management
Wildlife - Mammals
Participants will learn the significance of black bears to Arkansas and the research necessary to manage the species. They will view research equipment used to study black bears and how Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists use scientific data to manage the bear population.
Grade Level4 - 12
Recommended SettingIndoor or outdoor classroom
LocationWitt Stephens Junior Central Arkansas Nature Center, Little Rock
ContactEducation Coordinator, 501-907-0636
Duration45 minutes
Suggested Number of Participants30
  • Learn to identify black bear tracks, skin, teeth and skulls.
  • Understand primary food sources of black bears and their habitat needs.
  • Recognize how black bear numbers in Arkansas can be traced to restoration efforts.
  • Distinguish between facts and myths regarding Arkansas black bears.
  • Learn the history of black bears in Arkansas.
Key Terms*

Amendment 75 of 1996

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC)

“Bear State”



Carrying capacity

Central Arkansas Nature Center (CANC)

Color phase


Culvert trap


Gum tattoo



Home range

Jab stick

Nuisance animal

Oil Trough, Arkansas


Radio collar



Sustainable population



Wildlife biologist



Bear hide

Cross-sectioned tooth

Gum tattoo

Jab stick

Living with Arkansas Black Bears DVD


Power Point presentation on wildlife biologists working with bears

Question sheets for the Power Point presentation

Radio collar



Track mold


During the nineteenth century, Arkansas was “The Bear State” because of its large population of black bears. Legends of Arkansas bears figured prominently in the American frontier, spurred by contributions from journalists in New York and Chicago. Black bears were important to early Arkansas settlers who depended on bear meat, hides and oil for subsistence. Due to generations of unrestricted killing, only about 50 bears remained in Arkansas by the 1940s. In 1959, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission began one of the nation’s more successful large mammal reintroductions by restoring black bears to the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. More than 3,500 black bears are now thriving in Arkansas, thanks to ongoing management by AGFC wildlife biologists.

  1. Introduce yourself and the CANC. Explain that it is owned and operated by AGFC and showcases the agency’s mission. Also tell how Amendment 75 of 1996 funds paid for the facility and allow free admission.
  2. Tell participants you will be covering one of the more interesting animals of Arkansas: the black bear. Play the 10-minute Black Bears in Arkansas section of the DVD Living with Arkansas Black Bears as an introduction.
  3. Hand out copies of the question sheets to complete during the Power Point presentation that shows AGFC wildlife biologists working with black bears. Note that black bears are the smallest of the four bear subspecies in North America (grizzly, kodiak or Alaskan brown bears and polar bears are the others). Boars (adult males) can weigh more than 400 pounds, and sows (adult females) can weigh more than 200 pounds.
  4. Point out some physical characteristics of black bears. They do not have great long-range vision but do have an extraordinary sense of smell and hearing. Their hearing is more than twice as sensitive as that of humans. Hair color phases are black, cinnamon and blonde. Bears are excellent climbers and swimmers and can run faster than 30 mph for short distances. They are able to stand on their back feet in order to see or hear better. Show the bear hide, cross-sectioned tooth, skull and track replicas. Allow participants to pass the items around, and discuss each item. Highlight the canine teeth and ask what they are used for, explaining that those teeth are characteristic of carnivores.
  5. Talk about the diet of black bears. Although they are classified as carnivores, only about 10 percent of an average bear’s food is animal with most of it being insects and grubs. Realistically, bears are omnivores with a varied diet. Bears eat a variety of plant-based foods, including freshly sprouted vegetation, berries, other fruits and nuts. They will consume fresh carrion and occasionally small mammals or fish. When natural foods are scarce, bears forage for food. This can lead them to populated areas where pet food and garbage cans are inviting targets and conflicts with people can develop.
  6. Discuss nuisance bear issues and how the AGFC deals with nuisance bear complaints. Note that nuisance bears usually result from 1) a natural food shortage 2) yearling adult males that are looking for their home territory or 3) people feeding bears and causing them to associate food with people. These bears lose their natural fear of people and may eventually attack someone. AGFC strongly urges people not to feed bears for this reason. Pet foods should be stored indoors, and garbage should be taken to the curb the day of collection. If people encounter a nuisance bear, they should stay away and call AGFC or the local law enforcement. AGFC officials will attempt to trap and relocate nuisance bears but sometimes must kill them if they are considered a danger to people.
  7. Emphasize that bears do not hibernate in Arkansas but do den in the winter. Arkansas bears search for dens in October, and most will den by late December and will not emerge until April or May. Dens are sheltered areas such as rock crevices or overhangs, hollow trees and thickets. Bears do not eat, drink or expel waste during the den period. Metabolism drops 50 to 60 percent, heart rate drops 60 to 80 percent, and weight decreases as much as 25 percent.
  8. After bears emerge from dens from late April to mid May, they quickly look for available foods, which usually include emerging vegetation and insects. Bears breed in June or July; other than this season males and females are solitary. Sows can delay implantation up to five months until they have enough nutrition to support developing fetuses. Cubs are born in the winter dens and weigh just a few ounces. The typical litter has two or three cubs. A sow will only breed every other year because her offspring stays with her for two years. Upon emerging from the den the second year, the sow will run off her yearlings and seek to mate with a boar.
  9. Because of their size and nutritional needs, bears require abundant habitat. They need suitable den sites, plenty of escape cover and a liberal supply of high-quality foods. Most bears in Arkansas inhabit the Ozark and Ouachita mountain ranges, with smaller populations found in the White River refuge and other tracts in eastern and southern Arkansas. In ideal conditions, bears can live up to 30 years or more, but 15 years is the average.
  10. Explain that Arkansas was known as “The Bear State” in the 1800s due to the high number of bears. In fact, Oil Trough, Arkansas, got its name from the bear oil trade that once existed. Over time, unregulated pressure to meet market demands for bear meat and oil depleted the population. By the 1940s only about 50 bears remained in Arkansas along the lower White River. AGFC began an intensive, 10-year effort to restore bears in 1959. By 1980, AGFC estimated that 1,200 to 1,500 bears populated Arkansas and opened the first bear season in 53 years. Today there are nearly 4,000 bears in Arkansas. AGFC bases the annual harvest quota on population counts taken by wildlife biologists to maintain a sustainable population. AGFC’s restoration of the bear population is one of the more successful for large mammals in the United States.
  11. Explain that AGFC wildlife biologists monitor the population by tracking individual specimens, collecting data from them, etc. Pass around the gum tattoo, jab stick, snare and radio collar and discuss them.
  12. Review key vocabulary terms: translocate, den, nuisance, sustainable population, carrying capacity. 
  • Use the most recent AGFC bear survey data (available at www.agfc.com) to create math lessons.
  • Provide their teacher with a copy of the Watchable Wildlife: The Black Bear fact sheet to use at school.
  • Have participants research bears using the library and the Internet to write reports. Recommended websites include www.bear.org and www.americanbear.org. These can be included in the post-visit teacher packet.
  • What are the primary food sources of Arkansas black bears? (vegetation, fruits, nuts, berries, insects, grubs and worms, small animals)
  • What are some bear signs in the wild? (overturned tree logs, overturned rocks, scratches on trees, tracks, scat)
  • What do a black bear’s ears tell you about its age and body size? (The larger a bear’s ears in proportion to its head, the younger the animal.)
  • What are some causes of human/bear conflict? (human encroachment on habitat, poor natural food supplies, garbage and feed near homes, people feeding or baiting bears)
  • What bears are most likely to become nuisances? (those that have no fear of people, usually due to people feeding them)
  • Why does AGFC have a hunting season on bears? (to keep the population within healthy limits and prevent overcrowding; AGFC bases the number of bears to be harvested on the latest population numbers) 

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission – the state agency responsible for managing fish and wildlife


“Bear State” – the nickname for Arkansas in the 1800s derived from its large black bear population


Boar – an adult male bear


Carnivore – an animal that mostly eats animal matter


Carrying capacity – the amount of wildlife an area of land can sustain which varies with the amount of food, water and shelter available


Color phase – description of variation in hair color found in wildlife; black bears have black, cinnamon and blonde color phases


Cub – a young juvenile bear


Culvert trap – a trap made from a large metal drainage culvert to captur e bears for study or relocation


Den – a sheltered area used by black bears during the winter months


Gum tattoo – a marking device used on black bears by wildlife biologists; imprints identification numbers or letters for tracking purposes


Habitat –living space for wild animals that includes available food, water and space


Harvest – to take an animal by hunting; harvest numbers are part of scientific management of a species used by wildlife biologists


Home range – an area in which a wild animal spends most of its time; can vary in size during its lifetime due to limiting factors


Jab stick – a long pole with an injector at the tip used by wildlife biologists to anesthetize or medicate wildlife


Nuisance animal – a wild animal that has become a threat or danger to humans that must be relocated or killed by wildlife biologists


Oil Trough, Arkansas – a small town along the White River between Batesville and Newport that was named for the bear oil storage devices made from hollow logs in the 1800s


Omnivore – an animal that eats animal and vegetable matter


Radio collar – a leather collar fitted with an electronic transmitter and attached to a wild animal so wildlife biologists can monitor its location


Snare – a trapping device made from steel cable used by wildlife biologists to capture a wild animal for study or relocation


Sow – an adult female bear


Sustainable population – the number of animals in a species that can live healthfully in a certain area without overpopulation


Telemetry – a method of tracking wild animals through radio or satellite transmission from a transmitter affixed on the animal to a receiver that is monitored by wildlife biologists


Translocate – capture and relocation of a wild animal; can be used to introduce or increase wildlife into a new area or to move nuisance animals away from people


Wildlife biologist – a scientist who studies and manages wild animals


Yearling – a juvenile bear about one to two years old