Meet Ariel Blotkamp

Year: 2nd Year Graduate Student
Major: Conservation Social Sciences
College of Natural Resources
Hometown: Helena, Montana

Growing up in Helena, Mont., surrounded by national forest lands, Ariel Blotkamp developed an early fascination with bear-human interactions. Listening to a family friend’s ranger experiences at Glacier National Park also planted an early seed for bear conservation in Blotkamp’s mind.

After graduating from the University of Montana with a bachelor’s degree in recreation resource management, Blotkamp conducted social science research in Glacier and worked for several non-profit conservation groups around Montana. Later, while working in Grand Teton National Park, Blotkamp witnessed the downside of the job when a problem bear had to be euthanized.

“That moment, watching her walk into the cage and seeing the gate fall down, provided me with instant motivation to come to the University of Idaho to pursue a graduate degree studying human behavior in parks and protected areas,” says Blotkamp.

Working with Sam Ham, CNR conservation social sciences professor, Blotkamp spent this past summer at Grand Teton National Park studying ways to better educate hikers in the park on how to protect themselves against bear attacks.

Blotkamp investigated hikers’ knowledge of bears and proper behavior in bear habitat, their fear of bears, and the degree to which they are motivated to protect themselves from bear attacks. She also targeted misconceptions people hold about deterring bear attacks – for example, that bear spray doesn’t work (it does) and that “bear bells” are an effective means of alerting a bear of human presence (they’re not).

Her findings will result in recommendations to the National Park Service toward improving Grand Teton’s bear safety communication and education program and reduce human-bear conflicts on park trails.