Black Bear Task Force -
August 30, 2002
Paul Peditto, Director
The Maryland Black Bear Task Force (BBTF) has met monthly since January 2002 to identify issues of concern, acquire and discuss information, and develop recommendations on the management of the black bear in Maryland, as per its charge. One of the issues the task force has discussed recently is the need for a survey of public attitudes on the black bear. Surveys developed by Michigan State University and Cornell University were solicited, reviewed and discussed at the two most recent meetings of the task force. In light of the fact that an objective of the (1992) Maryland Black Bear Management Plan was to conduct a public opinion survey which has yet to be completed, the perceived need by other states (for example, New Jersey, New York, and Michigan) with bear/human conflicts similar to our own to assess public attitudes, and a review of the two surveys alluded to above, the BBTF requests support (including adequate financial resources) from the Maryland DNR to conduct a carefully constructed, scientific survey of public attitudes on black bears in Maryland. The task force decided at its last meeting that it will proceed with initial recommendations on black bear management and provide additional and/or modify its recommendations once the analysis of the public survey has been completed.
A survey of public attitudes on the black bear is important for a number of reasons. As for any species like the black bear with high visibility, management of the resource is a public issue in part. A well-conceived survey of public attitudes would (1) be an effective instrument to communicate the problem with black bears (as we, collectively, see it) to the public; (2) identify a Social (cultural) Carrying Capacity (SCC), and perhaps a Bear Sensitivity Index (BSI - similar to those being developed for Michigan, New York, and New Jersey) for black bears in Maryland (or particular zones in Maryland); (3) assess how knowledgeable the public is about black bears; (4) disclose how the public gets its information on black bears; (5) identify the most effective vehicle(s) for providing information to the public about bears; (6) measure variability in the public's tolerance of and appreciation for the black bear; (7) reveal the public's perception of the risks bears pose to human safety, pets, agricultural crops, etc.; (8) discover the extent to which the public is actively engaged in recreational activities associated with bears; and (9) summarize the public's attitudes toward specific bear management practices (for example, regulated hunts, relocations, aversive conditioning, euthanasia). A particularly important product of the survey would be information on regional variation in public attitudes about the black bear.
The results of the Michigan State University survey revealed that "the public at large appears to be na´ve about the presence of bear in the state and associated issues." Additionally, from the results of this survey, investigators concluded that "Information and education are tools that need to be considered to: (1) reduce the frequency of negative interactions with bear; (2) prepare the public for eventual changes in bear harvest and range expansion; (3) increase public understanding of the benefits (e.g., ecological role) of bears; (4) provide a realistic understanding of risks and consequences associated with the presence of bears and; (5) provide a better-informed basis for evaluating and accepting bear management tools (e.g., nuisance bear policies)." Further, the survey showed that "The public is polarized, emotional and often uninformed regarding several of the management options." With respect to bear management in Michigan, the report summarily stated that "The complexity of the potential issues suggests a need for a system of SCC management which involves attitudinal response, interactions, and bear population levels." From these statements, it is apparent that the investigators believed a thorough understanding of public attitudes is important for managing bears in Michigan.
The BBTF believes the survey for which we request support is an important component of, and worthwhile investment in, successful management of the black bear in Maryland. Wildlife biologists at Frostburg State University (FSU), in coordination with the BBTF and DNR, are willing to take the lead in developing and conducting the survey if adequate resources are made available. The University can enlist its undergraduate and graduate students in the Wildlife/Fisheries and Applied Ecology and Conservation Biology programs and student chapter of The Wildlife Society in the acquisition and analysis of data. Total expenses for the survey should not exceed $25,000 (which includes faculty time, graduate student labor, postage and telephone expenses, data compilation and analysis), and it should be completed, with a final report and M.S. thesis, within 1 year from when the survey is initiated. The BBTF, and Drs. Ron Barry and Tom Serfass at FSU, welcome your comments and questions.
Mr. Robert Beyer, Associate Director
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