The black bear has had a far easier time dealing with human encroachment. Photo by Scott Michael.
One reason that grizzly numbers plummeted as Europeans subdued the North American continent is because this bear requires large tracts of wilderness in order to survive. Human development in grizzly habitat has continued to have a negative impact on the great bear. Much of grizzly country includes picturesque landscapes where people want to visit or settle. More campgrounds, hotels, hiking trails, restaurants, swimming pools, tennis courts, stores, golf courses, ski areas, housing developments, etc. are popping up within or at the periphery of prime bear habitat. More development, either residential or business, also means more roads – this equates to more bear-people encounters and more bears being struck by automobiles.
Many people that set-up residence in bear country are unwilling to put up with the potential danger or property destruction that are inherent in sharing the “wilderness” with these large carnivores. In fact, most premature bear deaths result from “defense of life and property” (a.k.a. DLP) kills and automobile collisions. Between 1992 and 2000, 74 grizzlies were killed by humans in the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem (Gunther et al. 2004). Forty-three percent were killed in DLP incidents, while 28 % were destroyed by park managers because of conflict between these grizzlies and humans (most of these “bad” bears were killing livestock, raiding orchards or bee hives). During this study, no humans were killed by grizzlies in the area, but 38 people were injured (most of these were hunters [54%], followed by hikers [31%]).
Black bears have better adapted to the encroachment of human habitation. Ursus americanus is a stealthy bruin that will spend the daytime hours in the woods, only foraging in people-infested areas when darkness falls. Unlike their grizzled kin, they do not require the large wilderness areas to survive. More on the differences between black bears and grizzlies in tomorrow's post...
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael