Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Michael R. Pelton

Committee Members

William E. Hammitt, Gordon M. Burghardt, H. Alan Lasater


The purpose of this study was to provide information that would be useful in the management of human-bear interactions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP or Park). One-hundred and fifty backcountry campers and 200 frontcountry campers were interviewed to determine their attitudes, knowledge, camping habits, and experience as related to black bears. In addition, preliminary observations of human-black bear interactions in the backcountry were documented.

Backcountry campers were younger and more educated than frontcountry campers. At least 10% of campers did not realize black bears climb trees or that they are diurnally active. Approximately 25% of campers did not know black bears are capable of inflicting injury. Camper knowledge of bears did not appear strongly related to educational attainment, sex, or experience in backcountry areas. The National Park Service (NPS) reached over 90% of the campers interviewed with information on bears; however, approximately 25% of campers felt the information was not adequate.

Over 50% of backcountry campers hoped to see bears while hiking and 32% hoped to see bears at their campsites. Over 80% of frontcountry campers hoped to see bears along roadsides in the Park; campers should be informed of the potential hazards faced by roadside bears.

Black bears were seen by approximately 29% of backcountry campers and 14% of frontcountry campers during their current trip to GSMNP. Seven incidents of bear related food loss and/or property damage were experienced by backcountry respondents. Approximately 10% of backcountry campers seeing bears reported their observations to the NPS.

Nearly 11% of backcountry campers were reluctant to hike in the backcountry of the Park because of black bears, while 21% were reluctant to camp in backcountry areas. Significantly more frontcountry campers than backcountry campers were reluctant to hike and camp in backcountry areas.

Approximately 30% of stated reactions of backcountry campers to a black bear on a trail or at a campsite involved yelling, making noise, or throwing non-food objects at the bear; nearly 14% of stated reactions of frontcountry campers involved this type of aggression.

The majority of campers were not disturbed by research markers on bears. Most campers were not in favor of eradicating black bears from the Park, feeding bears, nor receiving reimbursement from the NPS for bear-related incidents.

The results reflect a continuing need to educate campers about bears. Enhanced knowledge about the attributes and capabilities of bears can further reduce the chances of distasteful encounters resulting in property damage or injury. Further research involving food storage devices and camper-bear interactions is needed.

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