Oregon is home to nearly 30,000 black bears, Ursus americanus, America’s most common bear species. They can grow up to six feet long and weight anything from 125 to 500 pounds. In fact, the name “black bear” is misleading, because they can have brown or gray coats.
If you’re on the lookout for bears in Oregon, you’ll only find black bears, since grizzlies haven’t been seen in the state since the 1930s. They make their home in Oregon’s abundant forests, where they create dens for hibernation, climb up trees, and forage. If you’re really looking to find one, try visiting areas that have been clear-cut and allowed to grow for a few years. They are easier to spot, and they feed on the grass and brush. They also feed on berries, nuts, and fruits; they can eat small mammals, insects, fish, and amphibians, but they are not usually actively hunting.
The best time to spot a black bear is in the middle of the summer, when their breeding season begins. Males and females will be more active, and yearling bears are becoming independent and can be seen roaming around roads and clear cuts. They are also independent animals, so don’t expect to see many in the same place.
Oregon’s forests are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems in the world, ranging from dry juniper and pine forests on the east side of the Cascades to lush old-growth Douglas fir forests on the west side. The fog belt region, also called the Coast Ecological Province, which is the smallest and narrowest forested region in the state, stretches north to south across the entire state along the coast.
What differentiates the fog belt zone from the rest of the forested zones in Oregon is the summer climate. While the rest of the state experiences high temperatures and little moisture, the fog belt experiences lower temperatures and increased moisture and humidity. Topographically, the fog belt sits at relatively low elevation, rising up from sea level to four or five hundred feet.
This climatically and topographically unique region supports highly diverse fauna and flora, and some common trees one will see when visiting the fog belt include Shorepine, Sitka Spruce, Western Cedar, and Douglas Fir.
Shorepine (Pinus contorta) is the only species of pine that grows in the fog belt.
They grow within a few miles of the coast and are typically bushy and distorted. The species has specially adapted to grow in rocky sites and sandy soil, such as sand dunes, and surviving powerful salty winds. These trees bare their round, twisted needles in clusters of twos.
Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) trees were once called the tideland spruce because they like the cool, foggy environment of the coast.
This species is the largest species of spruce, growing to almost 100 meters tall, and the largest Sitka tree in Oregon is found in Clatsop County with a diameter of more than 5 meters. These trees bare flat needles and thin, light grey bark that easily peels off. The trunk of the Sitka Spruce is buttressed and does not go straight into the ground like lodgepole pines. Sitka Spruce is named after Sitka Island, now called Baranof Island, off the coast of Alaska. Sitka Spruce is Alaska’s state tree.
Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata) trees are the only “cedars” with cones turned up and bent backwards on the branch (this species is not a true cedar species).
Another method of identifying Western Red Cedar trees is by looking at the underside of the foliage, where you will see a tiny shape outlined in white; some say this shape looks like a bowtie or a butterfly.
Western redcedar’s frondlike branches are so dense that some Northwest Native Americans called this tree “shabalup,” which means “dry underneath,” because the branches look like they could shed rain. These trees were the main trees used by the Northwest Native Americans to make canoes.
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is Oregon’s most common tree and the state tree.
The coast variety of this tree grows in the fog belt. The cone of a Douglas fir is very easily identifiable. Only cones from this tree have three-pointed bracts sticking out between the cone scales. These are said to look like the hind feet and tail of a mouse diving into a hole. The largest Douglas fir, the Doerner Fir, is located in Coos County and stands at 327 feet tall.
There are many other trees that can be found along the fog belt, as well as many common understory plants. To learn more, pick up a copy of Oregon State University Extension Service’s field guide, Trees to Know in Oregon.