Brown Bear Den Habitat and Winter Recreation in South-Central Alaska



ABSTRACT  Increasing demand for backcountry recreation opportunities during winter (e.g., snowshoeing, helicopter-assisted skiing, snowmobiling) in steep, high-elevation terrain has elevated concern about disturbance to brown bears (Ursus arctos) denning on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, USA. To help identify areas where such conflicts might occur, we developed a spatially explicit model to predict potential den habitat. The model indicated brown bears selected locations for den sites with steep slopes, away from roads and trails. Den sites were associated with habitat high in elevation and away from potential human contact. We then compared areas with the highest probability of providing den habitat with patterns of snowmobile and nonmotorized recreation on a portion of the Kenai Peninsula. We found limited overlap between the 2 recreation activities and potential den habitat for brown bears. At the landscape scale, however, backcountry skiing overlapped more high-quality den habitat than did snowmobile riding. Our results may be used by land management agencies to identify potential conflict sites and to minimize the potential effects of recreation activities on brown bears in dens.