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Hazards affecting grizzly bear survival in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

May 1, 2010

During the past 2 decades, the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) has increased in numbers and expanded its range. Early efforts to model grizzly bear mortality were principally focused within the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone, which currently represents only about 61% of known bear distribution in the GYE. A more recent analysis that explored one spatial covariate that encompassed the entire GYE suggested that grizzly bear survival was highest in Yellowstone National Park, followed by areas in the grizzly bear Recovery Zone outside the park, and lowest outside the Recovery Zone. Although management differences within these areas partially explained differences in grizzly bear survival, these simple spatial covariates did not capture site-specific reasons why bears die at higher rates outside the Recovery Zone. Here, we model annual survival of grizzly bears in the GYE to 1) identify landscape features (i.e., foods, land management policies, or human disturbances factors) that best describe spatial heterogeneity among bear mortalities, 2) spatially depict the differences in grizzly bear survival across the GYE, and 3) demonstrate how our spatially explicit model of survival can be linked with demographic parameters to identify source and sink habitats. We used recent data from radiomarked bears to estimate survival (1983–2003) using the known-fate data type in Program MARK. Our top models suggested that survival of independent (age ≥2 yr) grizzly bears was best explained by the level of human development of the landscape within the home ranges of bears. Survival improved as secure habitat and elevation increased but declined as road density, number of homes, and site developments increased. Bears living in areas open to fall ungulate hunting suffered higher rates of mortality than bears living in areas closed to hunting. Our top model strongly supported previous research that identified roads and developed sites as hazards to grizzly bear survival. We also demonstrated that rural homes and ungulate hunting negatively affected survival, both new findings. We illustrate how our survival model, when linked with estimates of reproduction and survival of dependent young, can be used to identify demographically the source and sink habitats in the GYE. Finally, we discuss how this demographic model constitutes one component of a habitat-based framework for grizzly bear conservation. Such a framework can spatially depict the areas of risk in otherwise good habitat, providing a focus for resource management in the GYE.

Publication Year 2010
Title Hazards affecting grizzly bear survival in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
DOI 10.2193/2009-206
Authors Charles C. Schwartz, Mark A. Haroldson, Gary C. White
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70230246
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center