A spatial analysis of management techniques used on nuisance black bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA (1990-2015)
Human-bear conflicts have been an important issue for wildlife officials in Great Smoky Mountains National Park since it was first established in 1934. In the Park’s early decades, biologists used capture and relocation as the primary method of management for nuisance bears. In 1990, capture and on-site release was introduced and thus provided another way for biologists to manage their individual nuisance bears. Since then, relocation and on-site release have been the two primary techniques used on nuisance bears. This project gathered the previous 26 years of nuisance bear capture data into a central database and calculated the differences in success rates between nuisance bears that were released on-site and those that were relocated. Bears were separated into two classes: animals that were captured for the first time, and animals that had been previously captured. Their histories were traced to determine if, and when, bears required later management actions. Results showed significant differences in success rates between the two management techniques. Nuisance bears released on-site following their first capture were successful 61% of the time, while bears that were relocated after their first capture were successful 87% of the time. Median time for recapture of nuisance bears that were initially released on-site and relocated was 65 and 293 days, respectively. Success rates for nuisance bears that had been previously captured and released on-site dropped for their second and third capture to 50% and 0%, respectively. Success rates of experienced nuisance bears that were relocated for their second and third capture were 87% and 67%, respectively. On their second capture, median time before recapture of nuisance bears that were released on-site and relocated dropped to 38 and 41 days, respectively. Overall, 26% (n=94) of the bears initially captured for management purposes in this thesis were recaptured for later nuisance activity. A general comparison of nuisance bear studies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park indicated that wildlife managers are now doing a better job of managing their nuisance bears than in previous decades. A project that examined the 23 years directly preceding this study’s time period found that 32% (n=108) of all bears captured and relocated for nuisance purposes a first time were recaptured for further nuisance activity. The increase in nuisance bear management success rates could be due, in part, to the introduction and implementation of on-site release as a management technique for nuisance bears.