The NWT is home to about 4,000-5,000 grizzly bears. The highest concentrations of grizzly bears in the NWT are found in the Mackenzie Mountains. The most common population of grizzly bears in the NWT is the barren-ground grizzly.
Grizzlies prefer open or semi-forested areas on all parts of their range and are most common in alpine and subalpine terrain or on the tundra. However, sightings in the boreal forest are not unusual.
Grizzly bears, sometimes called brown bears, have long shaggy coats with coarse guard hairs overlying a dense mat of underfur. The hair around their shoulders lengthens to form a ruff. The colour of the bears varies from light gold to almost black with pale or blonde bears being the most common on the barren-lands. The white tipped hairs around their face and shoulders give them agrizzled appearance.
A grizzly can be distinguished from a black bear by the hump on its shoulders and its more pronounced brow ridge. In the NWT, adult male grizzly bears can average 1.8 m from nose to tail and can weigh up to 250-300 kg. Females are smaller and weigh between 95-170 kg.
Grizzly bears have large home ranges relative to most other bear species. On average, a male’s range can extend over 2000 km² while a female’s range is about half that size. Grizzly bears found on the central barrens seem to need even larger home ranges at up to 6700 km² for males and 2100 km² for females. Grizzlies require an adequate food supply, proper denning sites and protection from human disturbances.
Grizzly bears in the NWT eat all kinds of food. Plants (horsetails, berries, legume roots and grasses) make up about 90 percent of the diet of grizzly bears in the Mackenzie Mountains. Caribou, berries, grasses and sedges are important parts of the diet of barren-ground grizzlies. They also eat a many lemmings and ground squirrels, which they dig up from their burrows.
Grizzlies are opportunistic predators and will kill moose, muskoxen and sheep if the occasion arises. Grizzlies are also carrion eaters and the carcasses of winter-killed animals may also provide a source of food in spring before vegetation is available.
Garbage is another favourite food of grizzly bears is garbage. As many as six grizzlies have been seen at the dump in Tungsten. Grizzlies also appear occasionally at fishing camps and remote industrial sites, where they are sometimes shot in defence of life or property.
Human activities can affect grizzly bear populations through harvesting, habitat degradation or both. As mineral and energy exploration, outfitting camps and road developments increase in the NWT, contact between humans and bears is rising. Unfortunately, contact sometimes results in bears being destroyed or displaced from important habitat.
Grizzly bears tend to avoid humans when possible. This avoidance may cause the bears to abandon large sections of their home range if it is undergoing exploration or development.
People travelling or living in grizzly be country should the animals the respect they deserve and practice bear safety. For more information, see Safety in Grizzly and Black Bear Country.