San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

American Black Bear | Bear Sign
If You Encounter a Bear | Sightings and Status

Bears: Sightings and Status

In recent years there have been many confirmed sightings in San Diego County:

  • August 2000—Separate sightings at Palomar Mountain, Cuyamaca Lake, and upper Pine Valley.

  • June 2000—Separate sightings at Palomar Mountain (Forest Service Campground), Cuyamaca Lake, and Pine Valley.

  • May 2000—Two black bears were reported on Palomar Mountain.

  • April 2000—Bear hit by a car in Box Canyon (Anza-Borrego State Park), ran off after accident.

  • January 2000—Another brown colored black bear was sighted In the Palomar Mountain area.

  • December 1999—Confirmed report of treed bear in Ramona, northeast of San Diego.

  • September 1999—Confirmed sighting and photograph of a brown colored black bear at Fry Creek on Palomar Mountain.

  • July 1999—Confirmed sightings of a black bear in Cuyamaca Mountains/Pine Hills.

  • June 1999—Confirmed sightings of a brown colored black bear near the La Jolla Indian Reservation and San Luis Rey picnic area.

  • May 1999—Two bears spotted near Warner Springs.

  • 1994—A female cinnamon colored black bear confirmed near Highway 76, Lake Henshaw, and the San Luis Rey picnic area.


The black bear is considered a game mammal in California. In 1998 it was estimated that between 17,000 and 23,000 bears inhabited the state. Data indicates that these numbers are stable to slightly increasing (Black Bear Management Plan—July 1998). See the California Department of Fish & Game Big Game Hunting Information to download a copy of the bear plan.


In the last four years bears have become more visible in San Diego County. Recent sightings are more numerous than over the last 30 years. The occurence of these bears is due to natural range expansion. However, continued range expansion coupled with large areas of suitable habitat within the county will likely result in an expanded breeding population in the future. Reasons for this range expansion are not fully known.

If black bears persist in San Diego County, an extensive public education program must be implemented as soon as possible. This program must include outreach to the backcountry communities where the dissemination of information is problematic. The Museum and the Department of Fish and Game plan to take lead roles by creating and implementing this program.

topo map linking to San Diego County bear sightings

See larger map showing recent sightings of black bears in San Diego County. (100K)

On May 16, 2000, a black bear was shot when it wandered onto a ranch at Witch Creek near Santa Ysabel, in northeastern San Diego County. The California Fish and Game Department donated the bear to the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Museum researchers examined the bear's carcass and found:

  • This male bear weighed 293 pounds and was about 3 years old.
  • The bear was in excellent health and had a good store of fat.
  • The bear's stomach was full and contained 92.1% plant matter, 4.2% garbage, and 3.7% animal matter. This is typical for a bear living near people.

The bear (pictured below) will be on exhibit at the museum as part of BEARS: Imagination and Reality (October 21, 2000 through January 2, 2001).

Black bear mount

If you see a bear in San Diego County, call the local California Department of Fish & Game office at (858) 467-4201 with specific information on date, time, and location.

Text: Scott Tremor (SDNHM Research Associate) and
Randy Botta (California Department of Fish and Game)

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