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Spatial analysis of black bears to assess harvest vulnerability in relation to landowner distribution

Funding by Pennsylvania Game Commission

Black bear population growth and expansion along with anthropogenic disturbance of traditional bear habitat over the past several decades has directly led to increased human-bear interactions and subsequently increased conflicts in Pennsylvania.  Harvest has been suggested as a viable management tool for suburban black bear but the viability of this strategy has not yet been extensively studied. Hunting as a strategy to mitigate human-bear conflicts hinges largely on the presence of targeted black bear populations on parcels of land open to hunting in defined management units during the hunting season. The objectives of our study were to (1) map land parcels within our study sites that were open to hunting whether privately or publicly held, (2) apply resource selection functions to black bear GPS location data collected during the hunting season between 2010 to 2013, and (3) identify covariates that best described black bear resource selection.  We retrieved land parcel data from 3 urban-suburban regions in Pennsylvania in geographic information system format to identify parcels that were >10 ha in size that were used by GPS-collared black bear.  To define parcels in our study site open to hunting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducted a landowner survey of all parcels within the 90% fixed kernel home range of all GPS locations.  A total of 78 bears were collared resulting in 114,450 locations for determining size of home range and resource selection of black bear.  Surveys were sent to 6,754 landowners that resulted in usable responses from 4,647 recipients for a response rate of 68.8%.  Covariates in the resource selection function included open to hunting, distance to road, land cover type, elevation, slope, aspect, and urbanization. Our results will assist resource managers in understanding resource selection of black bear near suburban areas where human-bear conflict is a growing concern of state agencies.