Stable isotopes to detect food-conditioned bears and to evaluate human-bear management


  • Associate Editor: Scott McCorquodale

  • This article was published online on 12 January 2012. An error was subsequently identified. This notice is included in the online and print versions to indicate that both have been corrected 23 January 2012.


We used genetic and stable isotope analysis of hair from free-ranging black bears (Ursus americanus) in Yosemite National Park, California, USA to: 1) identify bears that consume human food, 2) estimate the diets of these bears, and 3) evaluate the Yosemite human–bear management program. Specifically, we analyzed the isotopic composition of hair from bears known a priori to be food-conditioned or non-food-conditioned and used these data to predict whether bears with an unknown management status were food-conditioned (FC) or non-food-conditioned (NFC). We used a stable isotope mixing model to estimate the proportional contribution of natural foods (plants and animals) versus human food in the diets of FC bears. We then used results from both analyses to evaluate proactive (population-level) and reactive (individual-level) human–bear management, and discussed new metrics to evaluate the overall human–bear management program in Yosemite. Our results indicated that 19 out of 145 (13%) unknown bears sampled from 2005 to 2007 were food-conditioned. The proportion of human food in the diets of known FC bears likely declined from 2001–2003 to 2005–2007, suggesting proactive management was successful in reducing the amount of human food available to bears. In contrast, reactive management was not successful in changing the management status of known FC bears to NFC bears, or in reducing the contribution of human food to the diets of FC bears. Nine known FC bears were recaptured on 14 occasions from 2001 to 2007; all bears were classified as FC during subsequent recaptures, and human–bear management did not reduce the amount of human food in the diets of FC bears. Based on our results, we suggest Yosemite continue implementing proactive human–bear management, reevaluate reactive management, and consider removing problem bears (those involved in repeated bear incidents) from the population. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.