Year of Publication

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Agriculture

Department

Animal Science

First Advisor

Dr. Michael J. Lacki

Abstract

The black bear (Ursus americanus) has returned to Kentucky and is now part of a reproducing population in the southeastern Cumberland Mountain region. The broad objective of this project was to examine the interactions between people and bears, with the ultimate goal of improving bear management in a way that addresses stakeholder concerns. Using interviews of regional stakeholders, participant observation, and media reports collected between summer 2003 and fall 2006, I investigated how the presence of black bears in Harlan and Letcher counties in Kentucky has had an impact on area residents. I complemented this information with observations of bear behavior and an analysis of bear capture and handling data collected within the study period. Artificial provisioning of bears was widespread and >60% of black bears captured were confirmed to use anthropogenic foods at least some of the time. I found a significant difference (P<0.0001) in the apparent physical condition of confirmed anthropogenic feeding bears and bears whose feeding behavior was unknown, and similar differences in physical condition between bears captured along traplines in Harlan and Letcher counties when compared to bears captured along traplines in Bell County (P<0.01). Mean litter size was 3.25 ± 0.11 (SE), significantly above average for eastern North America (P<0.05) although cub survival remains unknown. All documented mortality of adult bears was human-caused. Anthropogenic food sources may affect bear behavior, survival, reproduction, and physiology, as well as bring bears into close contact with humans. Artificial provisioning is currently an important part of bear-human interaction in eastern Kentucky, both facilitating bear tourism as well as precipitating nuisance problems. Cessation of provisioning could have important consequences for the developing tourism industry in the region and for the bears themselves. Both the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and many local people have an interest in conserving bears, but problems have arisen due to differing conceptions of appropriate or desirable management. A better understanding of the human dynamics and cooperation taking place in this situation could provide much-needed information both in Kentucky and in other localities where stakeholders are debating how to co-exist with wildlife.

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