National Geographic : 1992 Feb
Black bear Sated after gorging on cherries, a young black bear scouts the forest from a tree in the Cades Cove area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Tennessee. Bears have always been known to climb in and out of trees, but lately they've been coming out of the woods too, much to the amusement-and the anxiety-of many East Coast suburbanites who, like the earliest settlers, occasionally wake to find bears in their backyards. "Beares they be common, being a great blacke kind of Beare," wrote William Wood about the Boston area in 1634, when more than half a million black bears roamed the conti nent. By 1900 commercial hunt ing, bounty systems (in which local governments paid a fee for each bear killed), and widespread clearing of eastern forests had drastically slashed their numbers. Establishing protected areas, such as parks, forests, and ref uges, and passing game laws to regulate hunting have helped the bear population recover. Today an estimated 200,000 black bears range the lower 48 states, 40,000 in the East alone.