WALTON COUNTY Fla. (WMBB) — The panhandle is one of the most populated habitats for Florida black bears but construction and development are encroaching on their homes.

Alaqua Animal Refuge is proposing a possible solution to this problem. The refuge wants to open a black bear sanctuary and rehabilitation center. The dream seemed unattainable shortly until Alaqua received a big donation.

“I think it’s amazing to have black bears in our community,” said Alaqua Animal Refuge Founder and President Laurie Hood. She has dedicated her life to being a voice for animals. 

Her help does not stop with domesticated animals.

“Alaqua Animal Refuge got permission to be one of the first black bear rehabilitation and educational centers in the state of Florida,” said Hood.

More residential development is forcing black bears out of their natural habitats and into areas where people live.

“The sightings are going up. There are a lot of people who don’t realize how to stay safe around these black bears,” said Hood.

Alaqua will be participating in Florida Fish and Wildlife’s bear-wise exhibit, which focuses on education and safety.

Walton resident Ryan Jumonville knew he had to help with this dream. So he decided to donate his boat to Alaqua to help raise the necessary funding.

“We really love and appreciate all wildlife and so raven and I spoke about it and she was adamant about wanting to make this dream a reality,” said Jumonville referring to his donation.

All of the boat sales proceeds will go directly to a new black bear sanctuary.

“So fingers crossed that someone steps up and really helps us out by paying top dollar for this boat,” said Hood.

The boat is docked at Galati Yachts in Destin.

The new bear exhibit will be built at their new location in Freeport off of Highway 20, but there are not any plans drawn up just yet.