Andrew Tri grew up in the north woods of Minnesota with black bears practically in his backyard.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Tri of Oak Grove, Minn., knew he wanted to work with bears.
Under the guidance of John Edwards, professor of wildlife and fisheries resources in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Tri has been studying the spatial ecology of urban and suburban black bears in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
“I’d been waiting for a good bear project to come along for a while and this one fell into my lap,” he said.
Funded through the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Tri is working with wildlife agencies in the three participating states in the hopes of better understanding why black bears inhabit urban and suburban areas, tracking their movements within the areas, and evaluating their vulnerability to hunting.
During the last 30 years, human and bear populations have increased in the three states.
As the fourth smallest state and home to 3,500 black bears, New Jersey has the densest bear population in the United States.
With the increases in both human and bear populations there also has been an increase in reported nuisance activity in cities and surrounding areas. “Nuisance activity” is a broad term used to describe any sort of bear behavior unwanted by citizens, everything from getting into trash to breaking into cabins.
“Bear managers have used hunting as a tool to reduce populations and nuisance complaints for quite a while,” Tri explained. “However, as black bear populations have increased, wildlife agencies have had to find additional ways to combat the problems. We aren’t sure how effective hunting, as a tool to control population levels, will be on bears in urban areas.”
One of the most common causes of nuisance bear activity, he notes, is the availability of human refuse.
“Controlling food availability may be the best way to limit the nuisance behavior,” he said. “But removing problem bears or changing their behaviors will continue to be important because complete elimination of food attractants is unlikely, and some bears already associate people with food.”
State wildlife agencies were responsible for identifying study areas, capturing black bears within the study areas, fitting them with GPS radio-collars, and then providing location data for analysis.
Tri is currently in year two of the three-year data collection.
After analyzing one year of data from Pennsylvania, he found, in general, black bear home ranges are smaller in urban areas, and those bears are more likely to be hit by cars.
Data also leads him to believe bears are using these areas as refuges and are not vulnerable to hunting.
Given these preliminary results, Tri believes better education of citizens and management of human behavior will be positive first steps toward reducing nuisance bear complaints in these states.
CONTACT: Lindsay Willey; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design
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