Influence of Attitudes Toward Wildlife on Preferences for Management of American Black Bears

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Applying an integrative approach incorporating attitudes toward wildlife in general and toward a specific species (American black bear [Ursus americanus]) can help land managers make decisions about the complex issue of human–bear interactions. The purpose of our study was to (1) assess park visitors’ attitudes toward wildlife, black bears, and possible management actions related to black bears in a park setting; (2) identify the impact of general attitudes toward wildlife and specific attitudes toward black bear on park visitors’ support for various black bear management actions; and (3) to examine whether visitor demographics affect their support for management actions. From March through September 2013, 364 visitors to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (a unit of the U.S. National Park Service located in the southeastern United States) completed a survey, resulting in a 72% response rate. Park visitors generally expressed a positive attitude toward wildlife education and enjoyment of seeing wildlife, while they were more polarized on the importance of wildlife management and their appreciation of wildlife through hunting. Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that park visitors’ attitudes were better predictors of support for management than were their demographic characteristics. Park visitors who agreed that “people appreciate wildlife through hunting” and “bears are a threat to people” were likely to accept lethal management actions. Their attitudes toward hunting in general were the most significant predictors of acceptance of lethal management actions. Park visitors’ positive attitudes toward black bear conservation and acceptance of the current number of black bears in the park were predictors of their acceptance of non-lethal management actions. The number of human–bear interactions in the park currently is small; and this proactive study expands possible management options with the intent of preventing and minimizing human–bear conflicts in a protected area where people recreate and wildlife coexists.

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