Black Bear


Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge has what is believed to be one of the largest concentrations of black bear found in the southeastern United States. Limiting factors on black bear on the refuge have been identified as the amount of blackgum mast, habitat disturbance, and availability of escape cover. Although blackgum fruit has been identified as limiting, the diet of the black bear varies with the seasons and availability of food. Spring foraging appears to be largely opportunistic with a high occurrence of ants and leaves in the diet. Blueberries and switchcane stems are preferred through the summer. Fall feeding shifts to blackgum, with winter diets consisting mainly of greenbrier, sumac, and gallberry.

The protection of major wetland forest types such as pocosin is critical to the maintenance of the Coastal Plain bear population. The bear population in Dare County and other areas had declined from man's disturbing influence and the destruction of habitat. In 1974, the Dare County bear population was estimated to be between 25 to 35 individuals, of which 13 to 20 were adult males, four to eight were adult females, and five to nine were juveniles. In the 1970s, state legislation made it illegal to hunt black bear in Dare County. The population has increased steadily since. The state legislature reestablished a hunting season for Dare County in 1992, but the season was not opened on the refuge due to insufficient population data.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at Virginia Tech completed a study of the black bear population at the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in 2005. The estimated population is between 370 and 500, with a density on good habitat of three to four bears per square mile. The normal population on good habitat is one bear per square mile.