Lonely Planet Writer

If you go down to the woods today...you'll see more black bears than ever in New York

New York may be best known for skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty, and Broadway … but nature lovers might also be surprised to find that wildlife there is thriving. A new study in New York has found that the black bear population of the state has been growing massively since the early 1990s.

American black bears by a waterfall.
American black bears are thriving in New York. Image by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Researchers found that across the wilder areas of New York, there was one bear for every three square miles, and that the population appeared to be spreading. The state has three historic bear ranges: the Adirondack, Catskill and Allegheny mountains and their study focused on the last two regions. “That’s where a lot of the population growth has been so that’s where we wanted to put our research efforts,” said Catherine Sun, one of the research team from Cornell University.

A river through a forest.
The Adirondack mountains have traditionally been a place where bears thrive. Image by Getty Images

They looked at a 40 mile-by-40 mile region with 200 research sites and used lines of barbed wire to snag hair samples from the passing bears. The project ran over the course of two summers and they analysed the DNA of 2000 hair samples and were able to identify 257 different bears. That meant old-fashioned methods of actually having to capture the bears and tag them were not needed, and the animals were oblivious to the counting.

The increasing bear population is not without its problems and has led to increased dealings with humans, which is not always safe for either human or bear. Catherine Sun said: “black bears are encountering human populations more now than they ever have before.” The research suggests bear populations are expanding further north into areas where more people live. To see just how extensive their range now is, a new citizen science project called iSeeMammals is asking hikers, tourists, hunters, and other wildlife lovers to track the presence of bears in the region.