Since the 1990s, the black bear population in southern New York has steadily expanded.
However, very little data about the state’s bear populations exists. In order to remedy that, researchers from Cornell University set out to study population density and distribution relative to land type.
According to the data collected, average black bear density in southern New York is approximately 13 bears per 38.6 square miles, or one bear per three square miles. The population density decreased some in the northern section of the study area, which suggests an ongoing northerly expansion of the bears’ range.
The study’s findings will prove valuable to state wildlife officials as they seek effective management strategies to keep tabs on the bear population.
The paper’s lead author, doctoral student Catherine Sun, says the growing black bear population has lead to more human-bear encounters.
“Our study shows how bears are distributed on the landscape at the edge of their range and provides clues for how bears might continue to use landscapes farther north.”
Historically, there have been three distinct bear ranges in New York state: the Adirondack, Catskill, and Allegheny mountain regions. Over time, however, the latter two bear ranges merged into one, and the resulting range now blankets the whole Southern Tier region of New York. The Cornell research was conducted in a 40 by 40 square-mile area in this region.
The researchers chose to focus their study in that area because it has been the site of both historic and blended (expanded) bear ranges. According to Sun, “That’s where a lot of the population growth has been so that’s where we wanted to put our research efforts.”
In order to conduct their study, the researchers set up nearly 200 research sites. They used lines of barbed wire to collect hair samples from bears passing through the area over the course of two summers. From these hair samples, they extracted DNA in order to identify individual bears. Over the two-summer study period, 257 different bears left around 2,000 hair samples.
This method of data collection is noninvasive and utilizes genetic analysis techniques that weren’t available in decades past.
Researchers suspect that the black bear population will continue to expand northward into more populated human areas. As a means of collecting even more data on the presence of bears in upstate New York, a citizen science project called iSeeMammals is now underway. The initiative uses information about bears and signs of bears as reported by hikers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts and recreationists.
The Cornell study was published in “The Journal of Wildlife Management” and you can check it out here.
What do you think about these New York bears? Let us know in the comments section below.
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