Beyond the "Bear" Necessities: A Mixed Methods Analysis of the Conflicts Arising in Human-Black Bear Encounters




Mazaika, Kathryn

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Human–black bear conflicts have been increasing over the last 25 years in the western United States. Conflicts arising in human–bear encounters involve both those between people and bears, and between people about bears and how to address them. Research focusing on the interactions between people and black bears is extensive, but few studies have focused on the conflict, or the progression from encounter to problem to conflict. Using concurrent mixed methods, this study examined the conflicts arising in human–black bear encounters in the Lake Tahoe Basin of California and Nevada. Through 70 semi-structured interviews and 119 surveys with community members and agency employees, and legal, policy, and document reviews, this research sought to learn more about the factors that influence the views participants formed about bears, and the alternatives they considered when an encounter became a problem. The interviews and background survey were administered concurrently, analyzed separately, and compared and integrated in a final interpretation. Background survey and Potential for Conflict Index (PCI) results supplemented the interview findings and created context and connections with earlier studies. Five themes organized the 12 findings that emerged from the semi-structured interviews through open and focused coding. Background survey analyses identified significant differences based on gender, and significant differences and highly mixed opinions on the importance of engaging an impartial facilitator. The research also found at least three distinct communities sharing the same physical space, but functioning for the most part independently until a problem black bear encounter occurred. Bears as provocateurs were both troublemakers and the catalysts for understanding the fractured community, how it addresses problem situations, and how their troublemaking could help to build a more connected community. Acknowledging the partitions in the larger community can create incentives to tailor conflict resolution systems that will reach individual communities based on their foremost needs and interests. It can also provide opportunities to explore areas most likely and fruitful for building bridges between the communities. These findings also provide insights into ways that existing systems for addressing problem encounters can be improved for greater harmony between people and bears and people about bears.



Alternative dispute resolution, Wildlife conservation, Sociology, Black bear, Community collaboration, Community conflict, Human-wildlife conflict, Lake Tahoe resort, Potential for Conflict Index