Recently, brown bear (Ursus arctos) viewing has increased in coastal Alaska and British Columbia, as well as in interior areas such as Yellowstone National Park. Viewing is most often being done under conditions that offer acceptable safety to both people and bears. We analyze and comment on the underlying processes that lead brown bears to tolerate people at close range. Although habituation is an important process influencing the distance at which bears tolerate people, other variables also modify levels of bear-to-human tolerance. Because bears may react internally with energetic costs before showing an overt reaction to humans, we propose a new term, the Overt Reaction Distance, to emphasize that what we observe is the external reaction of a bear. In this paper we conceptually analyze bear viewing in terms of benefits and risks to people and bears. We conclude that managers and policy-makers must develop site-specific plans that identify the extent to which bear-to-human habituation and tolerance will be permitted. The proposed management needs scientific underpinning. It is our belief that bear viewing, where appropriate, may promote conservation of bear populations, habitats, and ecosystems as it instills respect and concern in those who participate.
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From the field: Brown bear habituation to people - Safety, risks, and benefits