Noninvasive genetic sampling has become a popular method for obtaining population parameter estimates for black (Ursus americanus) and brown (U. arctos) bears. These estimates allow wildlife managers to develop appropriate management strategies for populations of concern. Black bear populations at Great Dismal Swamp (GDSNWR), Pocosin Lakes (PLNWR), and Alligator River (ARNWR) National Wildlife Refuges in coastal Virginia and North Carolina, USA, were perceived by refuge biologists to be at or above cultural and perhaps biological carrying capacity, but managers had no reliable abundance estimates upon which to base population management. We derived density estimates from 3,150 hair samples collected noninvasively at each of the 3 refuges, using 6–7 microsatellite markers to obtain multilocus genotypes for individual bears. We used Program MARK to calculate population estimates from capture histories at each refuge. We estimated densities using both traditional buffer strip methods and Program DENSITY. Estimated densities were some of the highest reported in the literature and ranged from 0.46 bears/km2 at GDSNWR to 1.30 bears/km2 at PLNWR. Sex ratios were male-biased at all refuges. Our estimates can be directly utilized by biologists to develop effective strategies for managing and maintaining bears at these refuges, and noninvasive methods may also be effective for monitoring bear populations over the long term.
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Vol. 73 • No. 7