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Human-Bear Conflicts in the Kennecott Valley

Grizzly Bears

masters thesis by James Wilder

From 1999-2002, I had the good fortune to conduct bear research in the Kennicott Valley of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, the very first bear research ever conducted within the park boundaries. The NPS commissioned this study in response to the increasing number of bear-human conflicts reported in the Kennicott valley in the years leading up to 1999, particularly near the “end of the road.” The potential for human injury and property damage as a result of these conflicts seemed to be increasing, and yet there were no data available as to why this might be.

This study was funded by the National Park Service in order to address three major objectives:

  1. to obtain an estimate of the minimum population of brown and black bears in the valley, their sex ratios and spatial distribution;
  2. to examine the location and causes of bear-human conflicts and to describe local bear ecology;
  3. to infer management strategies for reducing the occurrence of bear-human conflicts.

I decided to use the relatively new technique of non-invasive genetic sampling (NGS) to accomplish this task. In a nutshell, NGS involves collecting hair and tissue samples from barbwire “hair traps,” rub trees, bears killed in “defense of life or property” (DLP), and from conflict sites where a bear left a hair sample (for example, a dumpster tipped over by a bear). Genetic analysis of these samples yields the species, sex, and individual identification of the bear that provided the sample. The use of NGS negates the need to trap, drug, handle, and collar large numbers of bears. In fact, the bears are never aware that they are being studied.

Download/Read the Entire Study
120 pages, 3mb PDF

Did You Know?


Caribou are the only member of the deer family in which both the males and females grow antlers. In Alaska, caribou outnumber people.