Black bears (Ursus americanus) were historically abundant across Indiana, excluding the northwest portions of the state dominated by prairie. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss caused black bears to be extirpated from Indiana and much of the Midwest by 1850.
Before 2015, when a black bear entered the state at the Michigan border, the last confirmed report of a black bear in Indiana was in 1871. In June 2015, wildlife biologists with the Indiana DNR verified the presence of a black bear in St. Joseph County. The bear was believed to be a young male. It spent most of the next five months in Indiana and was last reported in the state on Oct. 13, 2015.
In March 2016, the bear emerged from its winter den in Michigan and, unfortunately, exhibited habituated behaviors, including a loss of fear of humans. Based on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (MI DNR) “Problem Bear Management Guidelines,” such behaviors are considered a threat to public safety. Consequently, the MI DNR trapped and humanely euthanized the bear on April 9, 2016.
In July 2016, a black bear was confirmed in southern Indiana in Harrison, Washington and Clark counties. Through reports received from Hoosiers and biologists, this bear was remotely monitored as it traveled north toward Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, where it overwintered. The following spring this bear then moved back south toward Harrison County. It is believed that this bear had crossed back into Kentucky in the summer of 2017.
In November 2018, a black bear was hit by a motor vehicle on Interstate 64 in Floyd County. The injured bear wandered into heavy brush after the accident. One week later, reports from a Hoosier with trail camera evidence confirmed that this bear had traveled north, near Memphis, Indiana. It is believed that this bear later succumbed to injuries from the accident.
If you see a black bear
- Enjoy it from a distance.
- Do not climb a tree.
- Advertise your presence by shouting and waving your arms and backing slowly away.
- Never attempt to feed or attract bears.
- Report bear sightings to the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife at 812-334-1137, through email at dfw@dnr.IN.gov, or online with the Report a large mammal sighting in Indiana form below.
Report a Large Mammal Sighting in Indiana
The Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife occasionally receives reports of large carnivores such as mountain lions, gray wolves and black bears.
There are currently NO breeding populations of these species in Indiana. But one of these animals may pass through Indiana from established populations in other states.
You can report a sighting of these animals online.
Though not a large mammal, bobcats may also be reported online.
Black Bear Facts
- They are stocky animal with short legs.
- Typically, males weigh 150-400 pounds and females weigh 100-250 pounds.
- In the Eastern United States, black bears typically have a thick black coat with a tan muzzle.
- They are omnivorous, feeding on grass, seeds, berries, insects, rodents and deer carcasses.
- Black bears are intelligent with a keen sense of smell and hearing.
- Young bears, particularly males, may travel long distances, up to 20 miles per day, into new areas, before retreating to establish a territory closer to the primary range.
- Black bears are generally very timid and not aggressive towards people.
- They are crepuscular, meaning they are usually active at dawn and dusk.
Living with bears
Residents in many states co-exist peacefully with black bears. They do this by not harassing bears and keeping attractants (food sources) away from them. Once a bear associates humans with a reliable food source, they will almost always seek those again, regardless of where they are released.
Bears can smell food from more than a mile away, so it’s important to secure food sources and discourage animals from associating humans and human dwellings with food. To reduce or eliminate bear-human conflicts please observe the following tips:
- DO remove bird feeders and bird food from late March through November.
- DO clean and store grills away after use.
- DO eliminate food attractants by placing garbage cans inside a garage or shed.
- DO pick ripe fruits and vegetable ASAP, or place an electric fence around them, to ensure bear cannot reach them.
- DON'T intentionally feed bears. Bears that become accustomed to finding food near your home may become “problem” bears.
- DON'T leave pet food outside overnight.
- DON'T add meat or sweets to a compost pile.
- DON'T climb a tree, but wait in a vehicle or building for the bear to leave the area.
REMEMBER: Black bears are rarely aggressive toward humans. Most problems arise when bears associate food with humans. Do not feed bears; doing so increases the likelihood of negative bear-human interactions. Unfortunately, a fed bear often becomes a dead bear due to increased aggressiveness associated with the loss of fear of humans. Thank you for your help keeping our wildlife wild.
Laws regarding black bears
Black bears were once an exotic species, and are now protected under Indiana Administrative Code 312 IAC 9-3-18.8.
- Nov. 11, 2018 - Black bear hit by motor vehicle near New Albany
- July 18, 2016 - DNR confirms black bear report in southern Indiana.
- July 17, 2015 - Black bear to be trapped and relocated.
- June 15, 2015 - Black bear continues westward path in northern Indiana.
- June 12, 2015 - Wandering black bear confirmed in St. Joseph County.