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A Wilder View: Carnivores avoiding people helping coexistence

Posted at 11:55 AM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 13:55:40-05

MISSOULA — This edition of A Wilder View takes a look at carnivores that avoid roads during the day, enabling a land of coexistence.

Large carnivores like bears and wolves play important roles in our ecosystem. They can affect all levels of the food web such as helping regulate herbivore populations.

But these fanged animals face challenges coexisting with people. They can compete with people for food, depredate livestock, or pose a direct threat to us. Therefore, the ability for carnivores to avoid us is important to lower the chances of negative encounters such as conflict or car collisions

When carnivores are taking a break or laying down, they strictly avoid using roads. But, just like roads are an effective use for travel with cars, carnivores think the same thing.

However, they avoid rush hour by using roads at night. This means they are able to tell the difference between less risky road interactions such as crossing versus more risky interactions such as resting on or traveling along roads.

In areas with large populations of people, carnivores shift their schedules to be more active at times when people are out less. This can be by using areas that are less impacted by people or during the night when people are less active.

Black bears use roads the least and have the strongest shift to using areas at night to avoid people and cars. The behavior shift is interesting since black bears aren’t actually nocturnal; they prefer early morning or evening hours.

The ability for carnivores to adapt to use areas while reducing run-ins with people may be the key to coexistence. Carnivores avoid overlap with people by 27%-to-42% by shifting their daily schedule and road habits.