Characterizing American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) Highway Crossing Locations in Central Georgia

Te Central Georgia Bear Population (CGBP) is of special conservation concern due to its relatively small population size and isolation from other bear populations in the southeastern United States. Plans to widen Georgia State Route (SR) 96, which bisects the CGBP, have potential to negatively impact the population. Highway underpasses are being planned to mitigate these impacts. During 2012-2015, we captured and ftted 63 American black bears (Ursus americanus) with global-positioning-system collars and used remote, infrared cameras to document bear crossings along SR 96. We evaluated landscape characteristics associated with 212 bear crossings (210 documented via global-positioning-system collars, two with cameras) using a resource selection function approach and generalized linear mixed-models. We noted that bears were more likely to cross SR 96 where the highway bisected upland habitats. Likewise, we observed that as distance between SR 96 and forest edge increased, the likelihood for a bear to cross the highway decreased. Specifcally, the odds of bear crossings decreased 98% for every 10 m farther away SR 96 was from a forest edge. Bear crossings were spatially concentrated, with 167 (78.8%) crossings attributed to seven bears occurring within a 2.5-km segment of SR 96. We recommend placement of an underpass within this segment to facilitate bear movements under the highway surface.

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