Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Fish and Wildlife Biology

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Paul R. Krausman

Commitee Members

Joel Berger, Mike Mitchell


human-bear conflicts, human-wildlife interactions, black bear, Ursus americanus


University of Montana


The increasing frequency and distribution of human-wildlife interactions is a direct result of a growing human footprint worldwide. Specifically, the effects of urbanization can be significant for many species, including American black bears (Ursus americanus). Human-black bear interactions (HBI) resulting in property damage, injury or death to humans, or fear of injury or death to humans are increasing in number and extent throughout North America, and wildlife management agencies are interested in reversing this trend. Using a case study of HBI in Missoula, Montana, my objectives were to examine temporal patterns of human behaviors and attitudes regarding HBI, develop a model capable of predicting the spatial distribution of HBI, and determine forage-related variables that predict use of the urban landscape by bears. Based upon questionnaires sent to a sample of residents in 2004 and 2008, the prevalence of outdoor garbage storage decreased, and support for management actions used to deal with HBI increased. These results suggest that human behaviors and attitudes in urban areas exposed to HBI may be changing. Based on phone complaints regarding HBI recorded by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks from 2003 to 2008, the probability of HBI is highest when residents live close to large forest patches, close to rivers and streams, and in intermediate housing densities (approx. 7 houses/ha). These results provide a wildlife management tool and a repeatable statistical framework that can be used to predict future HBI in areas where the potential for development is high. Using GPS collared black bears and a time-to-event modeling framework, the probability of an individual black bear being located within the urban landscape was driven by anthropogenic forage availability (i.e., urban green-up, apple availability) as opposed to wildland forage scarcity. Black bears will forage within the urban areas even when wildland foods are available outside the urban area, suggesting that bears shift their behavior in response to the availability of multiple anthropogenic food items (e.g., fruit trees, garbage). Wildlife managers developing management plans for HBI should incorporate possible changes in human dimensions, models that can predict where HBI will occur in the future, and bear populations that are becoming increasingly reliant on anthropogenic food items.



© Copyright 2010 Jerod A. Merkle