The American black bear occupies an area between the northern regions of Alaska and Mexico. It is encountered from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast. Even if it prefers forests and areas rich in shrubs, it can adapt to very varied climates and natural environments.
It frequents both the swamps and the subtropical forests of the south-eastern United States of America, such as in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and the high mountains of the south-west, between 900 and 3,000 meters of altitude, or even the tundra of the Labrador.
It also inhabits the mixed forests of southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States of America, but also in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The black bear is also found in all suitable habitats of the west. These include the chaparral-covered montane arid areas of Southern California, the temperate forests of Oregon and Washington State, the entire length of the Rocky Mountains, and even parts of the Sonoran Desert.
It is almost absent from the arid areas of the North American continent. After the winter, the black bear leaves its refuge and goes in search of food at lower altitudes and in the valleys exposed to the sun. As summer approaches, return to higher elevations.
The forest is a favorable environment for the black bear, where it can hide and protect itself from the sun. In the wild, the mammal's average life expectancy is about 10 years and can sometimes live up to 30 years. Currently, the number of black bears on the American continent is estimated to be between 500,000 and 750,000. Low fertility poses a threat to the survival of the species.
The main causes of mortality are collisions with cars on roads which in turn constitute one of the causes of forest fragmentation. Hunting, also facilitated by roads, is another cause of mortality. Teddy bears sometimes die from malnutrition or a fall from a tree.
They are also prey for predators such as wolves, pumas, lynxes, coyotes, brown bears and other black bears, especially males that run out of food. Young accidentally separated from their mother die quickly. Black bears continue to be hunted for trophies and bedside rugs, as well as for their meat, in Canada and Alaska.
About 30,000 black bears are killed each year in all of North America, but this hunt is highly regulated. The main parasites of black bears are tapeworms, roundworms and worms of the genus Trichinella. They can also suffer from tuberculosis, arthritis and bronchopneumonia.
Populations in the western United States are still large, while those in the east are declining dangerously. The latter live mainly in mountains and forests, as well as within national parks and nature reserves. The regions east of the Mississippi are actually more populated, while large areas of the high plateaus of the Rockies and the Great Basin are still wild.
The animal is absent in eleven out of 50 states, including Hawaii, the two Dakotas, more urbanized states such as Maryland or Delaware, and numerous central-eastern states where mountains and forests are non-existent. Furthermore, the situation of the black bear varies between subspecies and regions.
Thus, the Florida black bear is classified as a threatened species. A study conducted in California in 1998 estimated the number of black bears in this southwestern US state to be between 17,000 and 23,000. This population is currently stable, or slightly increasing.