Active bears in Northwest Florida roam for food in the spring

By: Stan Kirkland, F-W-C
By: Stan Kirkland, F-W-C

Florida’s black bears are seen regularly in the area during the spring as they search for food. The woods provide them with all the sustenance they need, from berries to seasonal plants, but if given the opportunity of easy pickings, bears will seek out residential areas for feasting.

When wildlife appears in residential communities, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) urges residents to remove or secure anything that might attract animals, such as garbage cans, pet food, birdseed, outdoor grills and compost bins.

If a bear continues to come into an area after all attractants have been removed and creates problems for residents, then the FWC will consider trapping the bear.

“The best way to avoid conflicts with bears is to remove or secure anything that attracts them,” said Dave Telesco, the FWC’s Black Bear Management Program coordinator. “When bears lose their natural fear of people and associate homes with food, there aren’t many good options.”

The FWC provides several options to residents who wish to secure their garbage and other bear attractants at MyFWC.com/Bear. Large outdoor areas with bee yards or fruiting trees or bushes are best secured by using electric fencing. Garbage can be secured either with a bear-proof can (available through waste service providers), electric fencing, storing cans in a garage or sturdy building, or making a garbage-can shed or caddy.

It is important to use the following tips when building a caddy to be sure it has the best chances of defeating a hungry bear:
 Use pressure-treated ¾-inch plywood and 2 x 4 framing;
 Use heavy-duty hinges and latches;
 Use screws instead of nails; and
 Don’t leave any gaps where a bear can get its claw into it.

Remember, if you can get into the caddy by kicking or pushing it, it is not bear-resistant. Be sure the caddy is secured to the ground or building so it can’t be tipped over.

If the FWC determines a bear in a residential setting has become too comfortable around humans, the choice for euthanizing, rather than relocation, is the best decision.

“There is no hope for rehabilitating an adult bear back into the wild once it becomes habituated to humans,” Telesco said. “The bear will only leave the woods once again to find easy sources of food. Habituated bears have lost their fear of people, making them more dangerous than wild bears.”

If you do encounter a black bear at close range, the FWC advises you take the following precautions:
 Remain standing straight up;
 Back up slowly;
 Speak in a calm, assertive voice;
 Do not run or play dead; and
 Leave the bear a clear escape route.

Florida’s black bear population has expanded in recent years, and the FWC estimates there are 2,500-3,000 animals statewide. Loss of habitat from urban growth and the expansion of the bear population combine to cause bears to make forays into residential areas where they get into garbage, pet foods, birdseed, livestock feed and a host of other high-calorie foods, according to FWC biologists.

Even though the Florida black bear has increased in population in the past few decades, it is still considered a threatened species in Florida.
Residents can call the FWC’s Northwest Region office at 850-265-3676 if they have any questions about bears, or they can call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 to report wildlife conflicts.


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