Exurban development is consuming wildlife habitat within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with potential consequences to the long-term conservation of grizzly bears Ursus arctos. We assessed the impacts of alternative future land-use scenarios by linking an existing regression-based simulation model predicting rural development with a spatially explicit model that predicted bear survival. Using demographic criteria that predict population trajectory, we portioned habitats into either source or sink, and projected the loss of source habitat associated with four different build out (new home construction) scenarios through 2020. Under boom growth, we predicted that 12 km2 of source habitat were converted to sink habitat within the Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone (RZ), 189 km2 were converted within the current distribution of grizzly bears outside of the RZ, and 289 km2 were converted in the area outside the RZ identified as suitable grizzly bear habitat. Our findings showed that extremely low densities of residential development created sink habitats. We suggest that tools, such as those outlined in this article, in addition to zoning and subdivision regulation may prove more practical, and the most effective means of retaining large areas of undeveloped land and conserving grizzly bear source habitat will likely require a landscape-scale approach. We recommend a focus on land conservation efforts that retain open space (easements, purchases and trades) coupled with the implementation of ‘bear community programmes’ on an ecosystem wide basis in an effort to minimize human-bear conflicts, minimize management-related bear mortalities associated with preventable conflicts and to safeguard human communities. Our approach has application to other species and areas, and it has illustrated how spatially explicit demographic models can be combined with models predicting land-use change to help focus conservation priorities.
Additional publication details
Impacts of rural development on Yellowstone wildlife: linking grizzly bear Ursus arctos demographics with projected residential growth