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Thesis Defense: Shannon Spragg

June 10 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am MDT

Integrating social, political, and economic factors into spatial models of grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) conflict and connectivity in British Columbia and the Okanagan
Public concerns about human-wildlife conflicts are often a barrier to large carnivore conservation. Little is known, however, about how the spatial juxtaposition of biophysical (e.g., habitat quality or movement corridors) and social (e.g., land use or political attitudes) features on a landscape shape the potential for conflict or how persistent conflicts ultimately affect conservation outcomes. For this analysis, I investigate the factors that contribute to conflict with grizzly bears, a wide-ranging and culturally significant species that often inhabit areas of high human activity. I analyzed 5,606 reported instances of conflict in southern British Columbia using a combination of biophysical, political, and institutional covariates using a Bayesian hierarchical logistic regression. The biophysical predictors included distance to protected areas, bear habitat suitability, distance to extant grizzly populations, and estimated biophysical connectivity for bears. The social predictors included distance to metropolitan areas, density of agriculture farms, population density, and public opinion towards grizzly bears. While the biophysical covariates provided insight into where bears were most likely to be, the social covariates determined where conflict was most likely to occur. I used the parameter estimates of the regression model to generate a spatially continuous conflict surface that indicated where probability of general wildlife and bear conflict occurrence is highest. Results suggested that land use and public opinion contribute substantially to the probability of conflict. I compared the results of omnidirectional analysis of connectivity based on biophysical factors alone to those produced when the probability of human-wildlife conflict is included. These results highlighted how conflict shaped the spatial location of areas where bear movement was diffuse, concentrated into bottle necks, or inhibited. My results provide novel insights regarding the effects of human-wildlife conflict on habitat connectivity that can help target conflict mitigation strategies associated with grizzly bear conservation and restoration in the region.


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