Species Profile

Grizzly Bear Prairie population

Scientific Name: Ursus arctos
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2012
Last COSEWIC Designation: Non-active
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Extirpated

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Related Species

Grizzly Bear ( Western population ) Special Concern No Status

Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Other Protection or Status | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear Photo 1



Currently most scientists recognize two subspecies of Ursus arctos in North America; Kodiak Bears Ursus arctos middendorffi found on the Kodiak Islands of Alaska, and Grizzly Bears Ursus arctos horribilis. The variation in the size of the Grizzly Bear across its range is reportedly due to differences in the quantity and quality of the food available, and does not reflect a taxonomic difference. The Eurasian Brown Bear Ursus arctos arctos is the smallest of the three subspecies.



The Grizzly Bear is larger than the Black Bear, has a stout body, a large head, and a short tail. It has a distinctive hump between its shoulder blades that is formed by the muscles of its powerful forelegs. Its nose turns up at the end, unlike the Black Bear, whose nose arches down. Grizzly Bears are typically brown, but can range from nearly white through blond to black. The guard hairs on the shoulders and back are often tipped with white, which gives the fur a grizzled appearance from a distance. Size is quite variable in Grizzly Bears. The weight of individual females ranges from about 100 kg for those in interior populations to about 200 kg for those in coastal populations, and typically males are almost twice as heavy as females. Body mass also increases greatly between spring and fall and declines over the winter.


Distribution and Population

Ursus arctos has an extensive Holarctic distribution, and is known, or believed to occur in Canada, the United States, and at least 42 Eurasian countries. Many populations in Eurasia are isolated, small, and endangered. The Grizzly Bear has been completely extirpated from the Canadian Prairies.



Grizzly Bears are habitat generalists, and can be found from sea level to high-elevation alpine environments. In Canada, they occupy habitats as diverse as temperate coastal rain forests, semi-desert arctic tundra, boreal forests, and subalpine forests. Suitable grizzly habitat must provide an adequate food supply, appropriate denning sites, and isolation from human disturbance. The habitat associations of the Grizzly Bear are strongly seasonal; the consumption of a wide variety of plants is important for many Grizzly Bears so their movements often reflect the development of the local plant community. In mountainous areas vegetation emerges earlier at lower elevations; bears therefore descend from their denning sites to feed in the spring, and return later in the season to higher elevations.



In the cultures of many Aboriginal peoples, the Grizzly Bear remains one of the most powerful, popular, and revered icons, and few species typify Canadian wilderness in as many minds as the Grizzly Bear. Grizzly Bears spend up to seven months of the year inside their dens in hibernation. They are large animals, and must build sizeable fat reserves to survive the winter. Bears in poorer quality habitat will range more widely in search of adequate food. Coastal Grizzly Bears, however, are some of the largest bears with the smallest home ranges, and are able to consume more than 10 kg of salmon per day in the fall. The Grizzly Bear has the anatomy and digestive system of a typical meat eater — and it can be a very effective predator of elk, moose, deer, and caribou. More often, however, plants make up 80 to 90% of its diet. In spring, it frequents areas where the vegetation emerges the earliest, and can often be seen digging for roots of the legume Hedysarum. Over much of its range, berries are the most important item in the Grizzly Bear’s diet, and contribute significantly to the winter’s fat reserves. Grizzly Bears are quite opportunistic, and will also feed on insects, small mammals, carrion (dead animals), and garbage. The effects of Grizzly Bears on their environment are wide and varied. They disperse the seeds of berries and plants that they feed on, and scavengers benefit from incompletely consumed salmon where Grizzly Bears feed. Nitrogen, derived from feeding on salmon, is redistributed on land through the urine and feces of the bears. Wolves and Grizzly Bears compete with each other for live prey and carcasses, and will steal food from each other. Grizzly Bears live an average of 20 years, although individuals as old as 34 have been recorded. Female bears have their first young when they are five to seven years old, and typically have litters of one to three cubs. The young are born during January or February inside the overwintering den. At birth, the cubs are less than 22 cm long and weigh about 400 g. They gain weight rapidly and weigh about 8 kg when they emerge in the spring. The cubs learn many complex behaviours from their mothers, and stay with them for two to four years. As a result, female bears are only able to reproduce every three or four years. Grizzly Bears are also difficult to monitor precisely, and assessing the viability of a population is difficult.


The last members of the Grizzly Bear Prairie population disappeared from the Cypress Hills area of Saskatchewan and Alberta around 1900. The extirpation of this population resulted from the killing of Grizzly Bears by humans, and conversion of the natural habitat to agricultural, residential, and urban areas.



Other Protection or Status

The Grizzly Bear in Canada is on Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos), Prairie Population, in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

4 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Grizzly Bear Ursus arctos in Canada (2002)

    Grizzly bears share the typical ursid body form, and are large, muscular, and robust. In contrast to American black bears, grizzlies have a prominent shoulder hump, concave facial profile, and long front claws. Fur colour ranges from blonde through shades of brown to nearly black. Males are, on average, 1.8 times as heavy as females. Typical body mass for adult females ranges from 100 kg for interior populations to 200 kg for coastal bears.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Grizzly Bear (2002)

    Canadian range considered as one population and designated Not at Risk in April 1979. Split into two populations in April 1991 (prairie population and northwestern population). Prairie population designated Extirpated in April 1991. The species disappeared from the prairies in the 1880s. Status confirmed in May 2000 and in May 2002. Last assessment based on an update status report. Northwestern population designated Special Concern in April 1991. The status was re-examined and confirmed in May 2002. Last assessment based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Grizzly Bear (2004)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos), Prairie Population, in Canada (2009)

    The grizzly bear, Prairie population, was designated as extirpated by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 1991 and was officially listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in June 2003. Section 37 of SARA requires the competent minister to prepare a recovery strategy for all listed extirpated, endangered or threatened species. The Canadian Wildlife Service – Prairie and Northern Region, Environment Canada led the development of this recovery strategy. It was determined that recovery of the grizzly bears, Prairie population, is not feasible at this time, owing to a lack of suitable habitat and threats that likely cannot be mitigated. The strategy was developed in cooperation or consultation with the governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. All responsible jurisdictions reviewed and approved the strategy. The strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (SARA, sections 39–41).