A Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Human-Black Bear Conflict in Virginia



Malpeli, Katherine C

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Black bear populations in Virginia have been recovering from near extirpation for the last century. The expansion of both human and bear populations has coincided with an increase in human-black bear conflicts. In developed areas, common complaints include damage to bird feeders, scavenging on garbage cans, and foraging at dumps. In rural areas, bears are known to damage agricultural commodities such as crops, and rarely, livestock. Mitigating human-black bear problems is one of six goals outlined in the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ (VDGIF) Black Bear Management Plan. Using the VDGIF’s database of reported black bear complaints, this study examines the spatial and temporal trends in human-black bear conflict in Virginia from 2008 to 2015. The first goal of this study was to assess trends in the types of conflicts that occur, the seasonality of these conflicts, and changes in the distribution of conflicts over time across the state. This goal was achieved through a combination of statistical measures and spatial analyses exploring the magnitude of change in the number of conflicts over time, clusters of conflict increases and decreases, and the direction of change in the number of conflicts over time. The second goal was to assess the role of ecological and anthropogenic variables in explaining the spatial distribution of human development-related and agriculture-related conflicts in the western half of the state, where conflict density was highest. Multiple logistic regression was used to test 27 a priori candidate models to achieve this goal. The results of the conflict type and seasonality analyses demonstrated that human development conflicts were the most common conflict type (66.7%), that the majority of reported conflicts involved damage (73.5%), and that most conflicts occurred in the summer and spring (81.3%). The results of the spatial analysis highlighted the widespread distribution and inconsistent nature of conflicts across much of Virginia during this period, though conflicts were somewhat concentrated in the western half of the state. The clustering of increases in conflict during several annual intervals points to four western regions of the state that could be targeted for conflict prevention measures. However, given the widespread distribution of conflicts across the state, public education efforts would be beneficial in most counties. The results of the regression analysis demonstrate that areas of human development located near large forests are at the greatest risk of human-development related conflicts. Meanwhile, areas at greater risk of agricultural conflict are those that are close to large forests and minor roads, and are of lower slope and elevation. The results of this study demonstrate the complexity of human-black bear conflicts in Virginia. Conflicts are widespread, as bear populations have expanded and adapted to living in a range of habitat conditions, including more developed areas. While conflicts have occurred in almost every county in the state, they are in general more concentrated in the western counties. For human development-related conflicts in particular, black bear managers can expect greater numbers of conflicts to occur at the interface of larger forest patches and human development. These results can be used to help target the strategic implementation of management actions aimed at reducing human-black bear conflicts in Virginia.



Human-black bear conflict, Human-wildlife conflict, Black bear, Virginia