Utility of National Wetlands Inventory Data for Black Bear Habitat Assessment in Coastal Louisiana

Existing landcover maps offer an inexpensive opportunity to conduct largescale habitat assessments for black bears (Ursus americanus), but because cover classes used in these maps may have been developed without consideration for bears, inferring bear food and cover distribution from these maps may be difficult. We evaluated the information content of a habitat map that we constructed using National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) data for a composite home range of 21 radio-tagged adult black bears in coastal Louisiana. Habitat types having potentially different food and cover resources for bears and recognizable from NWI data were deciduous broadleaf forest, bald cypress forest, mixed deciduous broadleaf and bald cypress forest, scrub-shrub wetlands, brackish and fresh marsh, deciduous broadleaf forest spoil, upland hardwood forest, and agriculture. We compared measurements taken from 113 plots in 77 stands distributed among 7 habitat types. We found differences in food indices (density of spring/summer food plants, fall food plants, insect foods) and cover (stem density, canopy cover, vertical profile cover) that indicated our map contained considerable information about the distribution of bear food and cover resources. However, variation in food plant abundance, and the overlapping and patchy distributions of common mast-producing shrubs suggested finer divisions of forest types should be developed. These should include physiognomic characters such as tree density and canopy height.

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