Date of this Version
Johnson, H.E., D.L. Lewis, S.A. Lischka, and S.W. Breck. 2018. Assessing ecological and social outcomes of a bear-proofing experiment. Journal of Wildlife Management 82(6):1102-1114. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.21472
Human-black bear conflicts within urban environments have been increasing throughout North America, becoming a high priority management issue. The main factor influencing these conflicts is black bears foraging on anthropogenic foods within areas of human development, primarily on residential garbage. Wildlife professionals have advocated for increased bear-proofing measures to decrease the accessibility of garbage to bears, but little research has been conducted to empirically test the effectiveness of this approach for reducing conflicts. Between 2011 and 2016, we conducted a before-after-control-impact experiment in Durango, Colorado where we distributed 1,110 bear-resistant trash containers, enhanced education, and increased enforcement to residents in 2 treatment areas, and monitored 2 paired control areas. We examined the ecological and social outcomes of this experiment, assessing whether bear-resistant containers were effective at reducing conflicts; the level of public compliance (i.e., properly locking away garbage) needed to reduce conflicts; whether the effectiveness of bear-resistant containers increased over time; and if the distribution of bear-resistant containers changed residents’ attitudes about bear management, support for ordinances that require bear-proofing, or perceptions of their future risk of garbage-related conflicts. After the bear-resistant containers were deployed, trash-related conflicts (i.e., observations of strewn trash) were 60% lower in treatment areas than control areas, resident compliance with local wildlife ordinances (properly locking away trash) was 39% higher in treatment areas than control areas, and the effectiveness of the new containers was immediate. Conflicts declined as resident compliance with wildlife ordinances increased to approximately 60% (by using a bear-resistant container or locking trash in a secure location), with minor additional declines in conflicts at higher levels of compliance. In addition to these ecological benefits, public mail surveys demonstrated that the deployment of bear-resistant containers was associated with increases in the perceived quality of bear management and support for ordinances that require bear-proofing, and declines in the perceived risk of future trash-related conflicts. Our results validate efforts by wildlife professionals and municipalities to reduce black bear access to human foods, and should encourage other entities of the merits of bear-proofing efforts for reducing human-bear conflicts and improving public attitudes about bears and their management.