Each year the Coastal Studies Institute hosts students from UNC’s Institute for the Environment program to participate in the Outer Banks Field Site (OBXFS). In addition to classes and field work held at CSI and in the surrounding region, students are required to complete a capstone research project that pertains to current issues of the North Carolina Coast. This year the focus is on the three predators of the Albermarle-Pamlico Peninsula.
A patchwork of private and public-owned land, the Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula (APP) is home to a set of three predators with overlapping ranges, but differing histories and management regimes: one that is thriving, one that is invasive, and one that is endangered. The endangered predator species in the APP is the red wolf (Canis rufus). The red wolves of the APP are the only wild population of red wolves in the world: they were reintroduced to the region by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1987 and remain management or conservation reliant. At risk of extinction, the red wolf population’s place in the APP is contentious. One of the key challenges for the red wolf population appears to be the invasion of the APP by coyotes (Canis latrans). Coyotes were not reported in the APP until 1990, after expanding eastward across the southeastern US. Since their arrival, they have complicated red wolf management by interbreeding with red wolves. The region also supports a thriving population of black bears (Ursus americanus), the densest black bear population in the eastern US. Unlike wolves and coyotes, black bears generally coexist with region’s human residents and figure importantly in the APP hunting economy.
These three predators of the APP are the focus of the Capstone research this year. Using the tools of academic research, we will create new knowledge about habitat suitability and local cultural attitudes regarding black bears, red wolves, and coyotes within the APP. Through a combination of GIS analysis and field-based data collection, we will apply a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) for black bears that was developed elsewhere to the APP and develop a framework for a HSI for APP red wolves. The predators cohabit the landscape with people, and the decisions people make and the actions they take are both constrained by the landscape and affect the landscape’s habitat suitability for these predator species. This semester’s human dimensions research will document public perceptions, attitudes, and values about large predators, local conceptions of the human-environment linkage, and views about appropriate usage of the APP landscape through interviews with key stakeholders, including individuals involved in agriculture, hunting, land/resource management, government/law enforcement, and wildlife conservation organizations. Together, the habitat and human dimensions aspects of the Capstone research will attempt to improve our understanding of the biological and social carrying capacities of the region for predator inhabitation. The research findings will have implications for red wolf management by helping to identify configurations of land parcels for a landowner incentive program.
To find out more about OBXFS check out the webpage HERE.