Impacts of Human Recreation on Brown Bears (Ursus arctos): A Review and New Management Tool

PLoS One. 2016 Jan 5;11(1):e0141983. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141983. eCollection 2016.


Increased popularity of recreational activities in natural areas has led to the need to better understand their impacts on wildlife. The majority of research conducted to date has focused on behavioral effects from individual recreations, thus there is a limited understanding of the potential for population-level or cumulative effects. Brown bears (Ursus arctos) are the focus of a growing wildlife viewing industry and are found in habitats frequented by recreationists. Managers face difficult decisions in balancing recreational opportunities with habitat protection for wildlife. Here, we integrate results from empirical studies with expert knowledge to better understand the potential population-level effects of recreational activities on brown bears. We conducted a literature review and Delphi survey of brown bear experts to better understand the frequencies and types of recreations occurring in bear habitats and their potential effects, and to identify management solutions and research needs. We then developed a Bayesian network model that allows managers to estimate the potential effects of recreational management decisions in bear habitats. A higher proportion of individual brown bears in coastal habitats were exposed to recreation, including photography and bear-viewing than bears in interior habitats where camping and hiking were more common. Our results suggest that the primary mechanism by which recreation may impact brown bears is through temporal and spatial displacement with associated increases in energetic costs and declines in nutritional intake. Killings in defense of life and property were found to be minimally associated with recreation in Alaska, but are important considerations in population management. Regulating recreation to occur predictably in space and time and limiting recreation in habitats with concentrated food resources reduces impacts on food intake and may thereby, reduce impacts on reproduction and survival. Our results suggest that decisions managers make about regulating recreational activities in time and space have important consequences for bear populations. The Bayesian network model developed here provides a new tool for managers to balance demands of multiple recreational activities while supporting healthy bear populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Culling / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Animal Culling / statistics & numerical data
  • Animal Distribution
  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Delphi Technique
  • Ecosystem
  • Europe
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food Supply
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / etiology
  • Malnutrition / veterinary
  • Models, Theoretical
  • North America
  • Ownership / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Recreation* / economics
  • Reproduction
  • Research
  • Ursidae*

Grants and funding

This project was funded by the US Geological Survey's National Park Service Natural Resources Preservation Program.