The bear has often been associated with bee hives and honey in works of fiction. However, the diet of bear has not always been clearly understood. Research into bear diet as well as other areas of bear health, physiology, and behavior is conducted at the world’s only facility designed to house North America’s grizzly bear, the Bear Research, Conservation, and Education Program located on the campus of Washington State University at Pullman, Washington. Researchers study bears in their natural habitat as well as captive bears like this young grizzly in the caged facility. Grizzly bears, the great omnivores of the Northwest, reach a weight approaching one thousand pounds. Researchers at Pullman determined that when pine nuts are available bears consume large quantities of these seeds of conifer trees. These massive animals require large amounts of high-protein food to build up body reserves to carry them through long winters in the Rocky Mountains. At times the bears gain four hundred pounds before starting hibernation. While grizzly bears are known to eat large mammals such as moose, elk, deer, bison, and black bears, their diet is largely comprised of grasses, moths, and berries. Grizzlies will eat insects, including bees, if they are available, but some of the locations where grizzly bears are found are at high elevations and lack sufficient flowering plants to support honey bees.
Grizzly bears catch large numbers of salmon in the mountain streams when the ocean-dwelling fish return to their birthplace to spawn. Researchers at Pullman found that bears enrich the terrain surrounding the streams where they catch salmon by spreading nitrogen-rich waste which nourishes the pine trees. The seeds of berries are spread in the waste of bears. Bees provide the pollination that makes the fruit and seed production possible, and the bear waste fertilizes the plants growing from seed. Honey bees and grizzly bears play important roles in supporting wildlife in the American Northwest. Washington State University is also active in conducting honey bee research.