Date of Award:

5-2020

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Committee

Shandra Nicole Frey

Committee

Michael R. Conover

Committee

Kevin D. Bunnell

Abstract

Public lands such as National Parks protect some of America’s most spectacular and iconic natural, cultural, and historic landscapes. These lands are managed with a goal of preserving their unique features for the recreational use of the public. Therefore, it is important to understand the effects, if any, that public visitation has on these natural systems. This study investigated human-wildlife interactions in Bryce Canyon National Park (BRCA), Utah in order to better understand factors that lead to human-wildlife conflicts and how the attitudes and perceptions of visitors affect their actions towards wildlife.

Observations of human-wildlife interactions were observed and measured against current National Park Service (NPS) guidelines. Factors including location, time, wildlife species, outcome, and number of visitors involved were recorded. Analyses were conducted to determine which factors influenced the probability of a human-wildlife conflict occurring. Results showed that golden-mantled ground squirrels (GMGS) were significantly more likely to be involved in a conflict than any other species and interactions taking place at the Inspiration Point location were significantly less likely to result in a conflict than any other location. Ultimately, the data suggest that while both location and species are important factors, this is a species driven system where the specific species involved in a human-wildlife interaction has the most significant effect on whether the encounter results in a conflict.

To better understand the motivations behind human-wildlife interactions, a visitor questionnaire was administered with ten questions regarding demographics, experiences, planning, and human-wildlife interactions from May to August of 2015 in popular stops within the park. In total, 224 questionnaires were completed with slightly more than half of responses coming from U.S. residents and the remainder from fourteen different foreign countries. A question asking respondents to select from a matrix consisting of potential reactions to encountering different wildlife species was used as the response variable.

Findings from our analysis revealed that international visitors were significantly more likely than U.S. visitors to select inappropriate responses regarding interactions with wildlife. Visitors who selected that they would enjoy seeing a certain species were generally more likely to select inappropriate interactions for those than other species. Also, international visitors ranked photographing wildlife as more important than U.S.visitors while U.S. visitors ranked learning about the history of BRCA and learning about nature as more important than international visitors. Finally, visitors who identified seeing and photographing wildlife as important motivations for their visit also selected a higher number of inappropriate responses to questions regarding encounters with wildlife. Combining the interactions, I observed with the results about visitors’motivations, this study provides new insight into understanding the causes of human-wildlife conflicts in BRCA and suggestions for efficient strategies to help mitigate the problem.

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