Nature Notes

Volume XIX - 1953
Crater Lake Discovery Centennial

black bears
Crater Lake Bears. From kodachrome by Welles and Welles.

Observations And Census Of The Black Bear In Crater Lake National Park
By Roland D. Walters, Ranger Naturalist

The Olympic black bear, Euarctos americanus altifrontalis (Elliot) was first noted at Crater Lake from the standpoint of numbers in 1896 when a biological survey was made of the mammals in this area. At that time the black bear was reported to be uncommon (Merriam, 1897). According to one ranger naturalist, bears were so scarce at one time that it was feared they would become extinct in this area. It seems, however, that in 1919 hopes for their survival took a turn for the better when a long, starved-looking female bear put in her appearance (Wynd, 1930).

She soon gave birth to a pair of twins and, after rearing them to the independent stage, wandered off one day to a nearby logging camp. Having learned to place her confidence in human beings, she sat down by a tent and waited to be fed--but instead of food she received a lead slug. The twins, named Jemima and Buster, carried on successfully and are said to be the forerunners of most of the bears now found in the park.

The total number of bears observed in the fall of 1933 was fourteen. This census was taken after the first heavy snowfall, at which time the bears relied on food scraps obtained at the dining hall near park headquarters (Canfield, 1933). According to Wallis (1947), Wildlife Ranger Wilfred Frost observed forty-two bears on August 31, 1939. Thirty-three were black, the remainder being of the brown color phase. Wallis himself estimated the bear population in 1947 to be between twenty and thirty in number. From the foregoing records it is evident that the census of bears during the past 50 years is rather incomplete and lacks data in regard to methods used, percentage of various color phases and any breakdown into age groups.

Cinnamon Cub
Cinnamon Cub. From kodachrome by the author.

"Where can I find a bear?" "How many bears are there in the park?" Questions such as these stimulated me to pursue an active program of observations on the bears in the park. During the summer months of 1953 daily records were made in regard to size, color, number and habits.

Although the National Park Service long ago discontinued bear feeding "shows" and prohibits the feeding, teasing and molesting of bears, with the welfare of both bears and visitors in mind, the animals are occasionally seen crossing the roads in various places in the park. They frequently wander through the campgrounds looking for food that may not have been packed away in a secure place. The bear is not a rare mammal in Crater Lake National Park.

The following table is a record of the quantitative results obtained. To obtain this data a segregation plan was used. First, the several females and their first year cubs were segregated, the second year cubs were then differentiated from medium and full size single adults. Daily observations included many repeats which were hard to distinguish at first but soon various differentiative characteristics such as general size, obesity and sex became helpful in individuals within a given category.

It should be understood that by no means do I consider this to be complete because such a field census undoubtedly includes some duplication, and some bears would go unobserved in an area covering two hundred and fifty square miles. However, this is an attempt to start filling in a gap that can be added to from time to time as better methods and additional observations are employed.

 8Full grownBlack
 6Full grownBrown
 4Medium sizeBlack
 4Medium sizeBrown

 5First yearBlack
 7First yearBrown
 1First yearCinnamon
 3Second yearBlack
 3Second yearBrown

Total 41

The only record of a bear observed nursing her young in the park prior to this year was made in 1939 by Mr. Frost (Wallis, 1947). He observed a mother bear nursing triplets near one of the disposal areas. Ranger Naturalist John Mees observed a mother nursing her twins in June, 1953 According to Mees, the mother bear assumed a prostrate position by lying on her back; then with the help of her front paws the two young were arranged in orderly fashion on her ventral side for nursing. Mr. Mees observed them from a distance of fifty yards and noted that loud gurgles could be heard that far away.

As can be seen in the table, which notes the number of bears observed, there was apparently only one cinnamon cub for the 1953 season. This little cinnamon bear had a black twin which was considerably larger. One day the mother crossed the road and, since the snow banks were rather steep on either side, the cubs had to really scramble to climb over them. In fact, the poor little cinnamon could hardly make it up. He rested about half way up one bank and then made it on the second attempt. Since he was not seen again during the season, I wondered if some male bear had killed him.

Two of the full grown male bears, one black and one brown were very conspicuous because of their unusually large and seemingly long front legs. Several of the park staff noted this unusual anatomical feature. The older males also have very large, hard-looking heads which one cannot mistake in trying to segregate the groups.


Canfield, David H. 1933. A Bear Story. Nature Notes from Crater Lake National Park 6(1):8-9.

Merriam, C. Hart 1897. The Mammals of Mount Mazama. Mazama 1(2): 204- 230.

Wallis, Orthello L. 1947. A Study of the Mammals of Crater Lake National Park. Unpublished Master's thesis, Oregon State College, Corvallis. 91 pp.

Wynd, F. Lyle 1930. Triplets. Nature Notes from Crater Lake 3(1):2-6.

Drawing by the author.

Three Similar Shrubs In Crater Lake National Park
By Charles F. Yocom, Ranger Naturalist, 1952.

Visitors in Crater Lake National Park during the latter part of the summer frequently notice the attractive white blooms of certain green shrubs along the Klamath Falls entrance road (south entrance) and along the walks near the Information Building and the Lodge. Ranger naturalists are occasionally asked the name of one of these plants but from the description are usually unable to tell the visitor the exact name of the plant, for there are three different kinds of shrubs in the park that have somewhat similar appearing blooms and leaves. These are blueberry elder, Sambucus coerulea (Fig. I), Pacific red elder, Sambucus racemosa var. callicarpa. (Fig. II), and western mountain ash, Sorbus sitchensis (Fig. III).

Two of these plants, the elderberries, are in the same genus and the leaves and stems look nearly identical. They differ, however, in the shapes of the flower clusters. The blueberry elder has a cluster of flowers that appears somewhat similar in shape to an umbrella, whereas the white flower clusters on the red elder are dome-shaped or somewhat pyramid-shaped. If the branches of either are broken one can see that the stems are filled with a soft substance called pith.

Mountain ash is related neither to the elderberries nor to the ash tree, which it also resembles; but it is closely allied with the wild rose, apple, peach, pear, plum, chokecherry and serviceberry, all of which belong to the rose family. In some areas, mountain ash attains the proportions of a small tree; in Crater Lake National Park, however, it usually occurs as shrubs. The elders belong to the honey-suckle family and should not be confused with alders.

For structural differences between the three shrubs, see the table below. Blueberry elder occurs only along the south boundary of the park and is common along the roadsides between Klamath Falls and Fort Klamath. Mountain ash and red elder occur at higher elevations in the park and often are growing side by side. All of these shrubs furnish an important source of food for many birds and some mammals.

In late summer and fall visitors observe the attractive berries of these shrubs along the roads and walks. There is no difficulty in telling the two elders apart at this time of year, for they have berries colored according to their common names. Of course, those with blue berries (Sambucus coerulea) are found at lower elevations and are often sought for pies and wine. Mountain ash and red elder have berries that look somewhat alike, so one must look for differences in leaves and stems.

Also remember that the cluster of berries of mountain ash is somewhat umbrella-like in shape and that the berry cluster of red elder is oblong, the berries themselves being brighter red.

Comparative Table of the Three Confusing Shrubs

CharacterMountain AshRed ElderBlueberry Elder

Color of flowerswhitewhitewhite
Shape of flower clusterumbrella-likedome-shaped or pyramidumbrella-like
No. of petals555
No. of stamensmore than 555
Color of berryOrange-redbright redblue
Shape of berry clustersflat topped clusteroblong clusterflat topped cluster
No. of leaflets9 to 113 to 93 to 9
Color of leafletsshiny greendull greendull green
Amount of pith in stemvery littlemuchmuch
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