Little is known about the effects of prescribed burning on American black bears (Ursus americanus) in the Southeastern Coastal Plain. In Florida, Eglin Air Force Base is home to 1 of 8 relatively disjunct populations of black bears (U. a. floridanus) in the state. Prescribed burning has been used on Eglin since the late 1980s to reduce the dense oak (Quercus spp.) midstory that occupies the longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)–wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) community. We studied black bear habitat use during 1994–96 to determine if temporal and spatial relationships existed between prescribed fire and black bear habitat use from 9 years of burning data. Within all habitat types, our results showed that black bears used unburned areas more than burned areas, both annually and seasonally. Among burned areas, black bear use was greatest in 3- and ≥5-year-old burns, both annually and seasonally, for most habitat types. Our results are consistent with published reports on timing of peak soft mast production following prescribed fire, and we conclude that higher use of particular burn ages was related to production of several soft-mast species. We suggest that longer burning cycles be applied within and adjacent to important habitats, like riparian zones, in the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Planning for juxtaposition of various successional post-fire stages is the best approach for managing habitats to maintain cover and availability of primary bear foods and effectively minimize the area needed to satisfy the needs of black bears.
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Vol. 18 • No. 1