Grizzly Bears

Were Grizzly Bears Ever Indigenous to Minnesota?

Grizzly bears, the iconic hump-shouldered brown bears of North America, once had a range that stretched from Alaska to Mexico.

But over the past two centuries, they have been eliminated from most of the lower 48 states.  Were grizzlies ever indigenous to Minnesota?

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Did Grizzlies Roam the Minnesota Prairie?

The answer is yes. Before Minnesota was densely forested, much of the state was prairie. Grizzly bears thrived in these open grasslands, perfectly camouflaged by their brown fur.

According to Spencer Peter of the North American Bear Center, grizzly bears occupied nearly every part of the continent prior to European settlement. This included western Minnesota.

When Were Grizzly Bears Eradicated?

As settlers moved into Minnesota in the 1800s, plowing up the prairies for farmland, conflicts arose. Grizzlies were seen as a threat, and bounties were placed on them.

Peter notes that the bears faced a fate similar to bison and wolves – overhunting and habitat loss. Reports of grizzly encounters persisted into the late 1800s, but by 1900 they were considered extirpated from the state.

Could Grizzly Bears Return to Minnesota?

While black bears have endured in Minnesota’s forests, grizzlies are unlikely to ever return. Over 99% of native prairie habitat has been destroyed, leaving no room for the bears.

Grizzly populations have rebounded in pockets of the Mountain West where they were protected, but the open plains that they once occupied are gone.

The closest wild grizzlies likely live over 500 miles away in Canada.

Could the massive brown bears have once called the Land of 10,000 Lakes home?

So while the king of the prairie once prowled western Minnesota, the species is now consigned to history in the North Star State.

Their existence serves as a reminder of Minnesota’s wilder past and the changes wrought by settlement and agriculture.

If you spot a massive brown bear roaming the fields today, it’s almost certainly a spirit from the past, not flesh and blood.

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