by Mark MacAllister
Page 5 : Threats to the American Black Bear
What threats do American black bears face?
Bears were nearly wiped out in what is now Great Smoky Mountains National Park. European settlement led to significant bear losses—not only were bears viewed as a trading commodity, but they were hunted due to raids on settlers' livestock and crops.
Deforestation in the early settler years also a problem. By the 1940s, about 65% of the available forests in the region had been cut down. This deforestation limited the amount of trees available for food supplies and for escaping danger. American black bears were also hit heard by effects of a chestnut tree fungus that ravaged the area beginning in 1934; the blight killed off all the Park's chestnuts within fifteen years, taking a major source of black bear food with them.
The black bear population continued to decline well into the 1960s. However, increased research and recovery efforts helped improve the species' situation, and by the 1990s the bear population was again on the rise. That encouraging news, though, is currently tempered by the threats posed by ever-expanding habitat loss and fragmentation in the region.
A variety of threats still concern wildlife managers and others interested in protecting black bears:
- Poaching—45 to 80 bears (and likely many more) are lost to poachers each year;
- Vehicles—roadkills are frequent, especially during the fall when bears are ranging widely in search of food. Expansion of the local road network also increases habitat fragmentation; one study shows that construction of an improved road and a campground in a previously undeveloped area will cut a female bear's 20 square-mile range in half. New roads also allow increased access for poachers;
- Loss of habitat—increased use of the Park's remote backcountry by hiker and campers, coupled with increased development around the Park's boundaries, limits the amount of habitat available to animals, and also increases the number of "garbage bears" and other problem animals;
- Degradation of habitat—the effects of growing Park visitation—as well as the impacts of acid rain, insect infestation, and non-native species—on bear habitat are of concern as well. As the quality of habitat in the Park declines, so too will the health of the American black bear population.
Next Page : References
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
View printer-friendly version