Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Michael R. Pelton

Committee Members

James L. Byford, James T. Tanner


The purpose of this study was to assess the factors which have affected the black bear (Ursus americanus) in the Great Smoky Mountains from earliest recorded history of the area until 1960. Local historical records, both public and private, were examined for pertinent information.

The historical data for the investigation were gathered from both interviews and written and pictorial material. Interviews included bear hunters, National Park Service employees, and former resident of the area. Written material was taken from diaries, journals, newspapers, National Park Service records, records of companies that operated in the area, and old historical documents. Photographs from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park archives and from private sources yielded additional information.

All data gathered were combined and categorized into major topics and time sequences. The material for each section (topic) was then assessed and summarized. Pre-Park hunting characteristics, major vegetation changes, and problems of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in regard to bears were considered separately.

It was found that there were no obvious limiting factors on the bear population before the settlement of the Great Smoky Mountains. Since 1880, primarily vegetation change, and secondarily hunting, have apparently acted to decrease the bear population. With the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the bear density temporarily increased. However, the death of the American chestnut (Castenea dentata) left the bear population vulnerable to mast failures; this combined with increased poaching resulted in a decline in the black bear population where it remains. However, the decline was apparently not as serious as in the early 1900's.

The majority of the problems currently concerning the black bear within the Park involve the relatively low production of mast associated with earlier vegetation disturbances, high numbers of Park visitors with a concomitant disregard by a few for regulations regarding bears, and the hostile attitude of some residents on the Park periphery. It was thought that black bear habitat within the Park may improve as more stands of mast-producing species mature. Finally, it was concluded that the National Park Service should improve programs of visitor education, adopt stricter law enforcement standards, and establish better regulations with peripheral communities.

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