Integrating Black Bear Behavior, Spatial Ecology, and Population Dynamics Across an Anthropogenic Landscape Gradient: Implications for Management
Collaborators: Bear Trust International, Hudson Farm Foundation, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Utah State University
PhD Student: Jarod Raithel
PI: Dr. Lise Aubry (Utah State University)
CO-PI: Dr. Melissa Reynolds-Hogland (Bear Trust International)
Project Background (excerpt from J. Raithel’s PhD proposal)
Following a 32-year moratorium on black bear hunting in New Jersey, a limited black bear harvest was temporarily reinstated in 2003 and 2005, but again closed in 2004, and 2006-09, because of considerable public apprehension over the use of bait, low black bear reproductive rates relative to other game species (e.g., white-tailed deer), and opposition to trophy hunting (Wolgast et al. 2010). Today the NJ black bear hunting season is very limited and is concurrently held with the six-day firearm deer season (e.g., December 9-14 in 2013). Successfully managing this ecologically important large mammal to meet “cultural” carrying capacity (Hurst et al. 2012), in a predominantly privately-owned and increasingly anthropogenic landscape, is representative of the complexities involved in 21st century conservation. New Jersey contains the greatest human population density in the USA and some of the highest reported black bear densities ever recorded (Carr and Burguess 2003; 2004, Diefenbach 2006); yet, we know little about how these bear densities vary in relation to anthropogenic development, how food-conditioned bears move across these altered landscapes to exploit human-derived resources, and how these spatio-temporal dynamics relate to the probability of human-bear conflict.
Using long-term data collected on wild black bears by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, we will estimate how black bear densities vary over space and time in response to advancing urbanization, quantify the relationship (if any) between bear use of anthropogenic resources and fitness components (survival and reproductive success), and assess the impacts of harvest scenarios on both short- and long-term population dynamics to guide management in mitigating human-black bear conflicts in a region that simultaneously supports dense black bear and human populations.
• Question I: How does black bear density vary across space and time in an increasingly human-dominated landscape, and is bear density a good predictor of human-bear conflict?
• Question II: Are black bears disproportionately selecting for anthropogenic habitats?
• Question III: Given individual variation in response to anthropogenic activity, how do differing behavioral strategies (e.g., disproportionate use of urban areas vs. disproportionate use of wildlands) scale up to affect demography (i.e., survival and reproductive success)?
• Question IV: Do human-altered landscapes shape individual variation in evolutionary fitness? Specifically, do individuals who opportunistically exploit anthropogenic resources become “super-contributors” to increased mean fitness in black bear populations?
• Question V: How will a range of harvest scenarios influence the short- and long-term population dynamics of NJ black bears? Given these projections, how can harvest most effectively be utilized to meet management objectives?
Jarod Raithel has completed his third year of work on this project. He is well into data analyses and will be submitting his first manuscript for publication by the end of 2016. To request a detailed project update, please contact Dr. Melissa Reynolds-Hogland; melissa@ beartrust.org.