Conservation Need and Facilities

Grizzly bears once roamed from northern Canada and Alaska all the way into Mexico with a population of 100,000. Today in the United States, grizzly bears outside of Alaska have been eliminated from 99% of their range and have declined in numbers to approximately 1,600. Significant grizzly populations are now restricted to the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide ecosystems. Very small populations inhabit the North Cascades of Washington and the Selkirks of Washington and Idaho.

The grizzly bear is not the only bear facing low population numbers and loss of habitat. Of the eight species of bears worldwide, six are either endangered or threatened. In China, giant pandas occupy less than 1% of their former range and number less than 1,200. Populations of sun bears, Asiatic black bears, and sloth bears in Asia are declining rapidly due to human-caused mortality and habitat loss. Some polar bear populations are also declining because of loss of sea ice habitat.

Grizzly cub on log.
Bear populations world-wide are endangered or threatened. Conservation research is a key goal of the WSU Bear Center.

Establishment of the WSU Bear Center

The Washington State University Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center was established in 1986.

Prior to the establishment of the Bear Center, both federal and state biologists responsible for understanding and managing wild grizzly bears occasionally wanted to use captive bears in their studies. In their attempts to use bears in zoos, biologists found that few zoos have the resources or sufficient sample sizes of bears to obtain meaningful data. The WSU Bear Center was established to fulfill this need.


The captive bear facility currently has 6 indoor-oudoor dens/runs, a 2.2-acre exercise yard, a kitchen with a walk-in refrigerator and freezer, and a medical room. Bears are rotated into the yard on a daily basis.