Date of Award

Fall 11-28-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science - Forestry



First Advisor

Dr. Christopher Comer

Second Advisor

Dr. Daniel Scognamillo

Third Advisor

Dr. Daniel Unger

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Yanli Zhang


Although black bears (Ursus americanus, Ursus americanus luteolus) were once found throughout the south-central United States, unregulated harvest and habitat loss resulted in severe range retractions and by the beginning of the twentieth century populations in Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas were nearing extirpation. In response to these losses, translocation programs were initiated in Arkansas (1958-1968 & 2000-2006) and Louisiana (1964-1967 & 2001-2009). These programs successfully restored bears to portions of Louisiana and Arkansas, and, as populations in Arkansas began dispersing, to Oklahoma. In contrast, east Texas remains unoccupied despite the existence of suitable habitat in the region.

To facilitate the establishment of a breeding population in east Texas, I sought to identify suitable habitat which bears could use for dispersal between known bear locations in Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma and the east Texas recovery units. I utilized Maxent, a machine learning software, to model habitat suitability in this region. I collected known black bear presence locations (n=18,241) from state agencies in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and east Texas and filtered them to reduce spatial autocorrelation (n=664). I also collected spatial data sets based on known black bear ecology to serve as environmental predictor variables. The model was developed at 30-m resolution and encompassed 417,076 km 2. The final model was selected to minimize model over-fitting while maintaining a high test Area Under the Receiver Operating Curve (AUC TEST)score.

For final model interpretation and analysis, I used the 10th percentile training threshold available in Maxent which excludes the lowest 10% of predicted presence suitability scores from the binary predictive map, thus resulting in a more conservative predictive map. The final 10th percentile model predicted 43.7% of the pixels in the study area as suitable and 53.7 % percent of the pixels identified as potential recovery units by Kaminski et al. (2013, 2014) as suitable. To focus management efforts, I identified three movement zones with a high proportion of suitable habitat within which connectivity analyses were performed. Suitable patches greater than or equal to 12 km2 were classified within ArcGIS as stepping stone patches. Buffers of 3,500 m were generated around these patches to determine the level of functional connectivity in each zone.

The final Maxent model confirmed that suitable bear habitat exists between source populations and the east Texas recovery units. The importance of percent of mast producing forest, percentage of cultivated crops and percentage of protected lands reflect what is known about basic bear biology and ecology. Furthermore, 153 stepping stone patches were identified within the movement zones, demonstrating that there is a reasonable chance of bears naturally dispersing to east Texas using the habitat identified in this study. Thus, protection of existing bear habitat and the stepping stone patches identified in this study should be a priority for managers seeking to facilitate natural bear recolonization of east Texas.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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