Big Predators Return to Kansas: Black Bears

The black bear was once a resident of Kansas. It probably inhabited most of the eastern half of the state, and also frequented the banks of streams further west. As people moved in, however, the bears moved out. Black bears were probably extirpated from Kansas sometime in the 1880s.

This is not to say that black bears haven’t wandered across the state from time to time. A bear was seen in Douglas County as late as June 23, 1966. A long period of time passed without bear sightings after that, however. Now they may be making a comeback.

Recent Reports

  • 2004–2011: Several reports of black bears in extreme southwestern Kansas. Some were different bears, while others were different sightings of the same bear. One individual was known to visit Morton County each spring for several years.
  • June 20 and 21, 2015: Several reports of a young bear in various parts of Cherokee County. Tracks were also found.

Where Did They Come From?

The bear seen in 1966 came from a different source than the black bears seen more recently. The 1966 bear was probably a young animal from the Missouri/Arkansas population looking for a new territory. The 2015 bear was most likely from this population, as well.

The bears seen in southwest Kansas probably come from Western states such as Colorado and New Mexico. Some of them may have been looking for new homes after wildfire outbreaks, but others appeared to be young bears searching for new homes.

How to Identify a Black Bear

Black bears are only likely to be confused with grizzly bears. Although grizzly bears were once fairly common along Kansas waterways, the odds of encountering one are not too good at present.

Helpful Resources

Black Bear Spotted in Cherokee County
More about the most recent bear sighting in southeast Kansas, including a photo.

Black Bear Control
How to determine if a bear is visiting your property, and how to scare him away when he shows up.