WENATCHEE — Grizzly bears are fast-moving, carnivorous animals that consume mostly meat and are about the size of a minivan.
That’s what it sounded like during a Chelan County public meeting Tuesday, but that isn’t the case, said Wayne Kasworm, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Montana grizzly bear biologist.
People have a lot of misconceptions about grizzly bears, he said. Grizzly bears can be dangerous, though, and do cause conflict sometimes with humans.
Grizzly bears in mountainous areas are much smaller than people realize, Kasworm said. The average female grizzly bear is 200 to 300 pounds and males are between 300 and 400 pounds.
“But there are probably a lot of black bears that are comparable to that,” he said. “Probably a 200- to 300-pound black bear is not that uncommon in Washington.”
Grizzly bears do tend to be bigger than black bears, but not by that much, Kasworm said. The coastal bears in Alaska are a lot bigger, but that’s because they feed on salmon that is high in protein.
“In Alaska, on the salmon stream, bears get a lot bigger and we see those things on the television screen and we think, ‘OK, maybe all bears are like that,’” he said.
A lot of grizzly bears’ diets also don’t consist of much meat, Kasworm said. About 80% of it is berries, insects and roots. Bears will hunt once in a while, but they also eat carrion and will scavenge.
“For ambush and short distance, grizzly bears are quite fast,” he said. “But they are more opportunistic and they do feed on carrion quite a bit —that is not something that wolves or mountain lions do quite as much.”
It can be hard to believe that something as large as a grizzly bear eats mostly roots and berries, Kasworm said. But what people don’t understand is that a grizzly bear’s digestive system is much more efficient than human’s. They are also selective about picking high-calorie foods.
Bears also aren’t as territorial as other carnivores, like wolves or mountain lions, he said. It isn’t uncommon for grizzly bears to utilize the same habitat together, but they won’t feed together.
“You typically won’t see bears side-by-side feeding,” Kasworm said. “They kind of have what I refer to as an enlarged personal space.”
Grizzly bears can move a lot, though, and they cover a lot of ground, he said. Females can have a range of 75 to 100 square miles, but males during mating season can move as much as 500 square miles looking for a female.
Kasworm said returning grizzly bears to the North Cascades doesn’t present a huge value to the ecosystem. The Cascades have functioned for a long time with low bear populations without seeming to be affected.
“When we get down to values, the value of bears is also a personal or a people value,” he said. “People value bears from the standpoint that if a wild place can support grizzly bears, it is indeed a wild place.”
Also bears have been known to kill livestock and go into fruit orchards, he said. Orchardists can put up electric fences to keep bears away, but it’s the same problem as living with black bears.
“I’m sure there are the occasional problems there,” Kasworm said. “I’m not trying to say everything is absolutely perfect, and every bear isn’t going to be a model citizen.”
Kasworm will also attend an Oct. 7 meeting in Omak about plans to reintroduce grizzly bears into the North Cascades.