Black Bear Country

Black Bear Country: Bear Country Sign, Utah DWR Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer
Bear Country Sign, Utah DWR
Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer
As I hopped out of my car to take a short hike up Cache Valley’s Dry Canyon Trail I was surprised to see the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources had posted a picture of a black bear. “Bear Country,” it said. “Store food safely and keep campsites clean.” I’ve never seen a black bear in Utah but a quick check of the DNR website confirmed that as of last count, July of last year, there were 4,000 black bears in Utah. In winter the bears stay out of site. But by May they are coming out of hibernation looking for food and very hungry.

Black Bear Country: Black Bear Sitting Photo Courtesy US FWS Mike Bender, Photographer
Black Bear Sitting
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Mike Bender, Photographer
Now I’ve always envied the bears ability to go to sleep fat in the fall and wake up thin in the spring. For me this would be the ultimate diet plan. But on further investigation I found that hibernating bears are not simply sleeping. They do slow down. The heart drops from 50 beats a minute to less than ten. Its breathing slows to once every 45 seconds. The body temperature drops almost ten degrees. The bears do not get up at night to pee. Amazingly, the bear does not eat, drink, urinate or defecate for months.

People who study bears tell us that keeping this hibernating metabolism going takes 4,000 calories a day. So having burned through their fat reserve the bear comes out of hibernation in the spring very Interested in food. The problem occurs when bears discover human food because once having tasted it they want more.

Young Male Blackbear Climbing Tree Courtesy US FWS Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Young Male Blackbear Climbing Tree
Courtesy US FWS
Steve Maslowski, Photographer
My daughter once told me about a camping trip she had taken in the Wind Rivers where a bear came into their campsite at midnight. She and her friends jumped out of their tents and saw the bear climb the tree where they had hung their food. For four hours the bear worked at getting that food. Finally, the tree branch broke and the food bag crashed to the ground. The bear ate their bagels, every single chocolate covered espresso bean, everything except the jalapeno crème cheese.

I took one last look at the poster at the trailhead. The small print said, “Learn to live with bears.” I thought some people learned more slowly than others. I remembered a trip I had taken to Yellowstone National Park and reassured my out of town guest that the National Park Service had solved the problem with bears. To my chagrin when we were checking in the camp host told us that they were having trouble with the bears. “It’s toothpaste,” the lady said, “They like the sweet taste of toothpaste.” I wasn’t worried until the next morning when my guest confessed she had remembered her toothpaste was still in her jacket inside the tent. “Ah, let the bear make its choice,” she sighed as she drifted off to sleep. No bear came into the campsite that night.

Sometimes you just get lucky.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Photos: Bear Country Sign: Courtesy Mary Heers, Photographer
      Sitting Bear: Courtesy US FWS, Mike Bender, Photographer
      Climbing Bear: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Audio: Friend Weller and technical engineers J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text: Mary Heers

Additional Reading

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Blackbears, Wild About Utah, 23 June 2011,

Leavitt, Shauna, Orphaned Bear Cub Rehabilitation, Wild About Utah, 14 August 2017,

Greene, Jack, Bears, Wild About Utah, 22 October 2018,

Burt, W. H. and R. P. Grossenheider. 1980. A field guide to the mammals. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 289 pp.

Safety in Bear Country

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Utah Conservation Data Center

Venefica, Avia Native American Bear Meaning, Whats Your Sign,

Welker, Glenn, Native American Bear Stories, Indigenous People, last updated 06/11/2016,

Gates, Chuck, The bear truth: Utah’s black bears pose little danger to humans, Deseret News, Oct 15, 2009,

Black Bear – Ursus americanus, Utah Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

Black Bear, Ursus americanus, Utah Conservation Data Center, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources,

The Henry Mountain Bison

The Henry Mountain Bison: American Bison Courtesy US FWS Ryan Moehring, Photographer
American Bison
Courtesy US FWS
Ryan Moehring, Photographer
The Henry Mountains of southeast Utah are famous for being the last mountain range in the contiguous United States to have been officially mapped. Indeed, before they were mapped, they were often referred to as the “Unknown Mountains.” Another relative unknown detail about this range is that it harbors one of only five genetically pure, free roaming bison herds on North American public lands.

In 1941, a seed herd of 18 American Plains Bison (B. b. bison) were transplanted from Yellowstone National Park to the arid desert of Utah’s Robbers Roost. A year later, five more bulls were introduced to the herd in hopes of sufficiently diversifying the gene pool and sustaining the herd. The bison must not have found Robbers Roost as appealing as Butch Cassidy had, though, because this new Wild Bunch set out for literal greener pastures that very same year.

The small herd forded the Dirty Devil River and travelled southwest toward the Burr Desert. The herd stopped here for a while, enjoying their newfound buffet atop the Aquarius Plateau. 21 years later, though, in 1963, the still small herd grew tired of the desert and abandoned it altogether for the higher, more verdant snow fed meadows of the nearby Henry Mountains. Here, the herd thrived and quickly swelled in numbers.

Today, the herd’s population is estimated to be between 300 and 400 animals, which ecologists and wildlife biologists regard as the maximum carrying capacity of their Henry Mountain range. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has responded accordingly. In an effort to perpetuate the health of the herd and their range, the DWR began issuing “Once-in-a-lifetime” permits to hunters hoping to fulfill not only a tag but also a burning sense of adventure. The Henry Mountains, after all, were mapped last for a reason. They remain one of the most rugged and remote places in a state known for its rugged and remote places.

Fittingly, quite unlike their more quintessential Plains Bison brethren, the Henry Mountains bison can be found almost anywhere in the Henrys between the desert lowlands and timberline. Apparently no one has told the herd that Plains Bison don’t typically like high elevations or steep mountain slopes. This unique proclivity of the Henry Mountains herd to cast off behavioral stereotypes works in their favor when hunting season rolls around and they abandon the high, open meadows for steep, wooded canyons and thick groves of aspen and evergreens.

This highly adaptive nature unique to the Henry Mountains herd made it an obvious candidate to serve as a seed population in early 2010 when 39 individuals were transplanted from the Henry Mountains to the Book Cliffs along the Utah-Colorado border. These 39 animals were to serve as a genetic supplement to a relatively new herd first reintroduced to the Book Cliffs by the Ute Indian Tribe in 1986. The now 600-strong Book Cliffs herd is well on its way to reestablishing the American Plains Bison’s historic range in the Book Cliffs.

The story of the Book Cliffs and Henry Mountains Bison give us reason to hope that one day soon, the American Bison might reclaim its territory, a historic range that once ran from Alaska through the Canadian territories and the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. And, if so, the role the Henry Mountains herd will play in that expansion may be a significant one.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

The Henry Mountain Bison-Credits:

Photos: Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Moehring, Photographer
Audio: Includes audio from
Text: Josh Boling, 2019

The Henry Mountain Bison-Additional Reading

Utah’s Book Cliffs Herd, Bison Bellows Series, National Park Service, June 30, 2016,

How scientists brought bison back to Banff, National Public Radio, Feb 28, 2017,

Buffalo (Bison) on the Henry Mountains, Capitol Reef Country, Wayne County Tourism,

Henry Mountains,,

Bison Unit Management Plan, Unit #15 Henry Mountains, Utah Division of Wildlife Management,

Gilman, Don, Rare, genetically-pure bison found in Utah’s Henry Mountains, St George News, Jan 12, 2016,

Henry Mountain Outfitters, HuntersTrailhead,

Brian, Jayden, Utah Henry Mountain Bison Hunts, Bull Mountain Outfitters, LLC,

Henry Mountains bison herd, Wikipedia,

Utah Porcupines

Utah Porcupines: North American Porcupine Erethizon dorsatum Courtesy US FWS Tom Koerner, photographer
North American Porcupine
Erethizon dorsatum
Courtesy US FWS
Tom Koerner, photographer
It was late evening at our 3rd annual Utah Youth Environmental Summit at the Wasatch Mountain Lodge above Brighton Ski Resort. We were winding down the day when someone happened to look out the window which elicited a high volume shriek.

“What is it?!” A gnarly looking beast had cozied up to the window. Its face was a mixture of the grotesque and cuteness. A throng of students rushed to the window. “A porcupine!!” None of the 30 students had seen one in the wild. The questions began. “Can it shoot its quills at you?” “What do they eat?” “Do they bite?” “Do they hibernate”? And so on.

Utah Porcupines: North American Porcupine Erethizon dorsatum Courtesy US FWS Lisa Hupp, photographer
North American Porcupine
Erethizon dorsatum
Courtesy US FWS
Lisa Hupp, photographer
Having grown up in the north woods of Wisconsin and Michigan, I could answer most of their questions. No, it does not shoot its quills, but beware of its strong tail which it uses to impregnate quills with a quick slap at the assailant. And no, it doesn’t hibernate and yes, they can bite! Further, they are excellent swimmers and tree climbers. Also, their quills, which are similar to our fingernails made of keratin, can regrow once lost.
Unfortunately, most of the porcupines I’ve happened on have been road kills. The others have been in trees where they may spend considerable time eating the bark and stems. A large pile of fecal material may be found at the trees base similar to that of grouse in shape and size.

Another thing I learned is they adore outhouses and will greatly enlarge the holes as whey chew away the salty urine flavored wood. They also have a penchant for ax handles and canoe paddles where salt accumulates from ones laboring hands.

They are long lived- up to 30 years in captivity. I later learned that our Wasatch Mountain Lodge beast had become habituated, a regular visitor looking for a bit of garbage or a treat.

A few other tidbits worthy of note. Porcupines tend to be solitary animals except for when they are mating or caring for their young. They can use caves, old trees, and logs to create their dens, in which they may remain for many days in inclement weather. They possess a wide-variety of calls including moans, grunts, coughs, wails, whines, shrieks and tooth clicking.

Utah Porcupines: Porcupine in a Tree Erethizon dorsatum Courtesy US FWS Public Domain
Porcupine in a Tree
Erethizon dorsatum
Courtesy US FWS
Public Domain
Late summer and early fall are the mating times. They make a great deal of vocalizations to draw a mate to them and to keep other males out of the area. Males become very aggressive, the strongest winning the female for which he will dance and then urinate on her for further affection. What!! Typically only one young is born seven months later. The baby’s quills are very soft for delivery, then harden after an hour. They remain with mother for about 6 months.

Predators are often deterred by the rattling of its hollow quills after which an offensive odor may occur. If the above threats fail, the porcupine will attack by running sideways or backwards while swinging its quilled tail in the direction of the predator.

Their magical quills are being researched by medical scientists to create adhesives, improve needle penetration, and for antibacterial properties. They also had extensive use by Native Americans for exquisite decorative purposes, and their bodies served up a fine meal- with quills removed!

This is Jack Greene and I’m wild about Utah porcupines!


Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Lisa Hupp and Tom Koerner, photographers
Sound: Courtesy
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Can a Porcupine Shoot its Quills? Smithsonian Channel, youTube, March 2, 2015,

Porcupines, Wild Aware Utah, (Utah DWR, Hogle Zoo, USU Cooperative Extension)

Cougars in Utah

Cougars in Utah: FemaleF43, Butterfield Canyon, 2009 Courtesy and Copyright David Stoner
Female F43, Butterfield Canyon, 2009
Courtesy and Copyright David Stoner
Cougars are more widely distributed in Utah than many residents realize. These shy cats are found across the state. They roam from the high Uinta Mountains to the dry southern deserts.

David Stoner, assistant professor in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources who has studied cougars for the past two decades said, “[Cougars] are common in terms of their distribution, but are rare in terms of their numbers. They live in many places but there are never a lot of them, typically occurring at densities of 1 adult per 20 square miles.

Stoner continues, “They’re just a big cat. Most of us are familiar with a house cats, and know how they behave, their movements, and idiosyncrasies. The main difference is their size. Cougars can be as large as humans [males usually range between 110 to 180 lbs.] They have evolved to take prey larger than themselves. You see this in the size of their muzzle – the mouth, nose and jaw. All of that is much larger in a cougar relative to its own body than a house cat. This becomes even more dramatic in the really big cats like tigers and lions with very large muzzles.

Stoner partnered with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to study cougars in two Utah areas, one of which was Monroe Mountain in Fishlake National Forest.

Mother named F61 (face showing), daughter (F58c) (facing away) Approx 1.5 yrs old in January 2011. Location: Kennecott mine, Bingham Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains, Utah Courtesy and Copyright McLain Mecham, Photographer
Mother named F61 (face showing), daughter (F58c) (facing away) Approx 1.5 yrs old in January 2011. Location: Kennecott mine, Bingham Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains, Utah
Courtesy and Copyright McLain Mecham, Photographer
The researchers noticed an unusual movement pattern of juveniles on the mountain. When the young were ready to leave their mothers they could have migrated in any direction to find good habitat but they disproportionately chose to go either NE or SE. This perplexed the researchers.

At about the same time the cougar research was winding down, DWR was starting a mule deer monitoring program.

Stoner said, “We were very fortunate. What DWR found was the Monroe Mountain deer herd were mostly migrating NE and SE. I looked back at our data and found the cougars who were leaving Monroe were going in the same direction as the deer migrations, the young cougars were tracking the deer herds.

Due to their hunting methods and nutritional needs, cougars require large home ranges. Researchers gathered data from NV, UT and AZ to represent a wide range of environmental conditions from very dry systems close to Las Vegas to relatively wet systems along Wasatch front.

Stoner explains, “We found the size of the home ranges…varied with precipitation. The wettest areas the cougars had the smallest home ranges, because of the abundance of prey in these highly productive systems. Females tend to have ranges strictly based on the food they need. The male’s range is much larger because they are looking for breeding opportunities, so they overlap numerous females. These ranges can be quite large. One collared male had a home range of over 2,500 square miles, which was visible on maps at the scale of the entire western United States.”

When it comes to human interactions with cougars, Utah has been very fortunate. In the past 100 years, no humans have been killed by a cougar. In hopes of maintaining this record, DWR keeps safety tips on its website. The most important tip is to never run from a cougar, this will cause them to instinctively think you are prey and begin the chase. If you have a child with you pick them up. Stand firm and look intimidating, let it know you’ll fight back. Your goal is to scare them off.

With the wise actions of humans, Stoner and DWR hope this majestic cat will continue to flourish in Utah.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © David Stoner
Audio: Courtesy
Principal Investigator: David Stoner,
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, My Cougar Encounter, Wild About Utah, January 16, 2017,

Strand, Holly, Mountain Lion, Wild About Utah, March 4, 2010,

Boling, Josh, Wild Cats, Wild About Utah, December 10, 2018,

Löe J. and E. Röskaft. 2004. Large Carnivores and Human Safety: A Review. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment Aug 2004 : Vol. 33, Issue 6, pg(s) 283-288

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Mountain Wildlife Field Book, Utah Master Naturalists,