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Black bear study project

Impact of a feeding site for observation purposes on the land use and habitat selection of the black bear in the boreal forest.

Observing wildlife is a popular practice for discovery and research. However, since it is sometimes difficult to see certain species in their natural environment, strategies have been developed to facilitate compliance and increase the success rate. Animals are attracted to observation sites by food left for that purpose by the researchers. However, these practices are controversial because they can have a variety of ecological impacts on wildlife at the level of the individual, the population or even the whole ecosystem. One of the species involved in such enhancement activities is the black bear (Ursus Americanus).

Black bear observation
Black bear observation

Given the importance of the search for food in the black bear’s daily activity, the impact of this type of feeding can be substantial. It may influence the dynamics of the bear population and result in an alteration of their natural behavior, the creation of a certain dependence and conditioning towards humans, all of which could potentially lead to a natural increase of human – bear conflict. Our objective is to evaluate the hypothesis that attendance at a feeding site by male bears influences their use of space and habitat selection, since their food needs are likely to be more easily filled by the regular intake of high-energy food. From 2008 to 2011, at a control site located near a feeding site, we fitted 27 adult males with GPS collars. Our results show that the spatial ecology of bears that frequented the feeding site was greatly influenced by the presence of that site. The tagged bears significantly reduced the area of their habitat and the distances that they traveled. They also showed strong preference for the area surrounding the feeding site and showed greatly reduced interest towards other food-rich environments, especially in the fall. However, these bears did not show a greater attraction to man-made structures such as roads and buildings.

Such wildlife observation sites need to be managed carefully and there should be specific regulations in place to govern these activities. It is important to regulate the activities of observation involving the feeding of wild animals, to improve our ability to respond when these activities threaten the human population, the ecosystem and the wildlife itself. In addition, proper management of the observation sites will improve certain aspects of their acceptability.