We tested the hypothesis that gravel roads, not paved roads, had the largest negative effect on habitat quality for a population of American black bears (Ursus americanus) that lived in a protected area, where vehicle collision was a relatively minimal source of mortality. We also evaluated whether road use by bears differed by sex or age and whether annual variation in hard mast productivity affected the way bears used areas near roads. In addition, we tested previous findings regarding the spatial extent to which roads affected bear behavior negatively. Using summer and fall home ranges for 118 black bears living in the Pisgah Bear Sanctuary in western North Carolina during 1981–2001, we estimated both home-range–scale (2nd-order) and within-home-range–scale (3rd-order) selection for areas within 250, 500, 800, and 1,600 m of paved and gravel roads. All bears avoided areas near gravel roads more than they avoided areas near paved roads during summer and fall for 2nd-order selection and during summer for 3rd-order selection. During fall, only adult females avoided areas near gravel roads more than they avoided areas near paved roads for 3rd-order selection. We found a positive relationship between use of roads by adults and annual variability in hard mast productivity. Overall, bears avoided areas within 800 m of gravel roads. Future research should determine whether avoidance of gravel roads by bears affects bear survival.
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