Bait-station surveys are used by wildlife managers as an index to American black bear (Ursus americanus) population abundance, but the relationship is not well established. Hard mast surveys are similarly used to assess annual black bear food availability, which may affect mortality and natality rates. We used data collected in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) from 1989 to 2003 to determine whether changes in the bait-station index (ΔBSI) were associated with estimated rates of bear population growth (λ) and whether hard mast production was related to bear visitation to baits. We also evaluated whether hard mast production from previous years was related to λ. Estimates of λ were based on analysis of capture–recapture data with the Pradel temporal symmetry estimator. Using the Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC), our analysis revealed no direct relationship between Δ BSI and λ. A simulation analysis indicated that our data were adequate to detect a relationship had one existed. Model fit was marginally improved when we added total oak mast production of the previous year as an interaction term suggesting that the BSI was confounded with environmental variables. Consequently, the utility of the bait-station survey as a population monitoring technique is questionable at the spatial and temporal scales we studied. Mast survey data, however, were valuable covariates of λ. Population growth for a given year was negatively related to oak mast production 4 and 5 years prior. That finding supported our hypothesis that mast failures can trigger reproductive synchrony, which may not be evident from the trapped sample until years later.
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Vol. 69 • No. 4