Black bear populations are increasing throughout North America (McCracken 1995, Peine 2001). Typically, when areas of black bear population expansion overlap regions of substantial human use (e.g., a suburban neighborhood or tourist destination), conflict can ensue. Human-bear conflict is an effect that can have impacts for many people, including ecological, economic, health/safety, psychological, and social impacts. Causes of human-bear conflict vary.
Understandably, human-bear conflicts are a concern to wildlife managers. Many wildlife agencies and communities have formalized specific bear-related policies, management plans, or education programs to reduce human-bear conflict. Such policies, plans, and programs are often implemented as part of an integrated strategy designed to reduce non-hunting bear mortality. Education interventions are common in such communities, regions, or states where human-bear conflicts occur. Such programs take different forms, target diverse audiences, and have diverse effects. Similarly, there are numerous reasons why educational interventions are used in human-bear conflict management.
The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) offers a conceptual framework with which to consider community education intervention strategies designed to reduce human-bear conflict. The TRA can and has been used to predict what types of information might best influence attitudes towards specific wildlife management actions (Lauber and Knuth in review). Such information is often used by management agencies designing an education intervention strategy; the array of individual concerns regarding wildlife and the types of information that most effectively target those concerns may be translated into effective agency communication.
Six noteworthy North American black bear-related human education interventions were reviewed: Adirondacks, New York; State of New Jersey; Lake Tahoe, CA/NV; State of Florida; Whistler, British Columbia, Canada; and West Yellowstone, MT. All education interventions were designed to reduce human-bear conflict. Cases were compared according to essential intervention-related criteria such as: problem; education intervention; alternative actions considered; stakeholders involved; target audience of education program; criteria to evaluate success; and species targeted by the intervention. Inductive findings from this review include: (1) human-black bear conflict is not a regional, small-scale phenomenon; (2) comprehensive, extensive, and well-known black bear education interventions are present in communities/regions where human-bear conflict has reached a “crisis” level; (3) education interventions are implemented and maintained by different stakeholders and interventionists; stakeholders’ motivations are diverse as well; (4) overall, evaluation of education interventions is lacking; and (5) most education interventions in these contexts appear to be implemented as a means to address human-bear conflict via direct human behavior modification, not direct bear behavior modification.