CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 4/1/21: One way to manage bears who damage property and crops is to move them to a different area within their geographic range. Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) scientists studying translocation have found that capture and release does not lower bears’ survival rates, so it’s a good option for handling nuisance bears.
Javan Bauder, former INHS postdoctoral researcher, and Max Allen, wildlife ecologist, studied data of 1,233 translocated American black bears in Wisconsin from 1979 to 2016. Most of the bears were moved because of nuisance complaints.
The scientists expected that the translocated bears would have a higher mortality rate following release, partly because of unfamiliar landscapes, road mortality, and problems with other bears in the area. Bears may also travel long distances to find food—possibly from garbage cans.
“The bear survival rate that we found was generally lower than for non-nuisance bears in other studies, but our data indicated that the bears’ behavior itself rather than the translocation was responsible for the lower estimates,” Bauder said. “There’s an inherent risk for bears who have a closer proximity to humans, so their odds of being harvested by hunters or killed on roads are higher.”
Findings also showed that bears translocated longer distances had a higher survival rate, which is the opposite of the scientists’ expectations.
“I imagine the higher survival rate is because the bears translocated farther are more removed from the situations that were causing nuisance behavior, so they are less likely to repeat the behavior,” Allen said.
Geography also plays a role in that bears that are released in national forests or other large natural areas have less ability to engage in nuisance behavior.
In a previous study, Bauder and Allen found that bears translocated to agricultural areas were more likely to return to their home site than those released in forests.
“Our results are encouraging in that they show translocation is effective in managing human-bear conflicts and does not have a negative effect on bear populations,” Bauder said. “It’s a viable option.”
State wildlife agencies often work with homeowners and landowners to address conflicts using various tactics. Educating people about bear behavior and how to handle it can sometimes lessen the problem.
The study was published in Animal Conservation and was funded by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the University of Illinois, and the Illinois Natural History Survey.
Media contact: Max Allen, 217-300-7674, firstname.lastname@example.org; Javan Bauder now works for the U.S. Geological Survey in Arizona.