Date of Award:

2014

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

Michael R. Conover

Abstract

Prior to European settlement, black bear (Ursus americanus) were far less abundant in the state of California. Estimates from statewide harvest data indicate the California black bear population has tripled in the last 3 decades. Bears inhabit areas they formally never occurred (e.g., urban environments) and populations that were at historically low densities are now at high densities. Though harvest data are useful and widely used as an index for black bear population size and population demographics statewide, it lacks the ability to produce precise estimates of abundance and density at local scales or account for the numerous bears living in non-hunted areas. As the human population continues to expand into wildlife habitat, we are being forced to confront controversial issues about wildlife management and conservation. Habituated bears living in non-hunted, urban areas have been and continue to be a major concern for wildlife managers and the general public.

My objective was to develop DNA-based capture-mark-recapture (CMR) survey techniques in wildland and urban environments in Mono County, California to acquire population size and density at local scales from 2010 to 2012. I also compared population density between the urban and wildland environment.

To my knowledge, DNA-based CMR surveys for bears have only been implemented in wildland or rural environments. I made numerous modifications to the techniques used during wildland DNA-based CMR surveys to survey bears in an urban environment. I used a higher density of hair-snares than typically used in wildland studies, non-consumable lures, modified hair-snares for public safety, included the public throughout the entire process, and surveyed in the urban-wildland interface as well as the city center. These methods were efficient and accurate while maintaining human safety.

I determined that there is likely a difference in population density between the urban and wildland environments. Population density was 1.6 to 2.5 times higher in the urban study area compared to the wildland study area. Considering the negative impacts urban environments can have on wildland bear populations, this is a serious management concern.

The densities I found were similar to those found in other urban and wildland black bear populations. The baseline data acquired from this study can be used as part of a long-term monitoring effort. By surveying additional years, population vital rates such as apparent survival, recruitment, movement, and finite rate of population change can be estimated.

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