Date of Award

12-2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Major

Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Frank T. van Manen

Committee Members

David A. Buehler, Joseph D. Clark, John B. Wilkerson

Abstract

From 2001 through 2005, the North Carolina Department of Transportation rerouted and upgraded a section of U.S. Highway 64 in Washington County to a 4-lane divided highway. This new roadway included 3 wildlife underpasses with adjacent wildlife fencing to mitigate the effects of the highway on wildlife, in particular American black bears (Ursus americanus). From 2000 to 2001, the University of Tennessee conducted research on the spatial ecology and population demographics of the black bear population at the new highway site and on a nearby control area of similar habitat composition. From 2006 to 2007, after highway construction, data collection was repeated and additional data were collected to document use of the 3 wildlife underpasses and wildlife mortalities from vehicle collisions. I tested several hypotheses to determine if the new highway caused changes in home-range characteristics, spatial responses, habitat use, movement characteristics, and activity patterns of black bears. Using a dataset of 5,775 hourly locations and 4,998 daily locations from 57 bears, I detected no changes in home-range characteristics or movement characteristics of bears because of the new highway. However, the power for several of these analyses was relatively low and my research focused on females. I did detect changes in bear habitat use and activity patterns resulting from the new road. In particular, bears from the new highway area were closer to the road and became more active in morning when highway traffic was low. Underpass monitoring yielded 2,053 photographs of wildlife and 3,622 wildlife crossings based on track counts. The highway surveys recorded 196 animal mortalities from vehicle collisions. I observed an increase in wildlife crossings at the underpass sites, but no difference in roadkill frequency between protected sections of the highway (underpasses and fencing) compared with unprotected sections. However, substantially fewer animal-vehicle collisions (primarily deer [Odocoileus virginianus]) were reported in the study section of U.S. 64 compared with adjacent sections of this highway. Overall, I found few impacts on black bear spatial ecology resulting from the highway and that the 3 wildlife underpasses were effective.

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