Use of stable isotopes to investigate black bear diets and to evaluate the human-bear management program at Yosemite National Park, CA
Hopkins, John Brooks III
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Yosemite has applied extraordinary effort to manage people and bears over the past century. For the past decade, human-bear management has implemented both proactive (population-level) and reactive (individual-level) management to prevent bear incidents; however, incidents continue to occur at high frequency even though the program has received $500,000 in congressional funding each year since 1999. For this study, we developed a new method to detect human food-conditioned (FC) bears throughout the Park using isotopic data and used these results and dietary estimates for these bears to evaluate the effectiveness of the human-bear management program. In the first chapter, we proposed 40 definitions for terms and concepts common to human-bear management. In the second chapter, we provide details on a stable isotope mixing model designed to accurately estimate dietary parameters in the remaining two chapters. In these last chapters, we collected tissues (bone and hair) from contemporary and historic bears with known and unknown management statuses (FC or non-food-conditioned [NFC]) and analyzed them for their stable isotopic composition. In chapter 3, we used these isotopic data to predict the management status of unknown bears using a logistic regression model. For chapters 3 and 4, we used isotopic data for FC bears and stoichiometric data for their food sources to estimate the proportional dietary contributions to bear diets through time using our mixing model. Results from chapter 3 show a small proportion (~13%) of the unknown sampled population (n = 145) is currently FC, and chapter 4 results showed the proportion of human food in food-conditioned bear diets increased before the park began implementing a rigorous proactive human-bear management strategy in 1999. Since then, the amount of human food in known FC bear diets has decreased dramatically. We conclude that proactive human-bear management was effective at reducing the amount of human food available to bears since 1999. In contrast, evidence suggests reactive human-bear management was not effective at eliminating or reducing the amount of human food in individual bear diets. We suggest the Park reevaluate the effectiveness of their reactive human-bear management strategy, reduce problem bears from the population, and continue proactive management.