(WMBB/The News Service of Florida) — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking for help updating its bear management plan that was created in 2012 as the population rises.
FWC estimates there are 4,000 bears statewide, and over 1,000 of those are in the Apalachicola and Tate’s Hell State Forest area. In 2012, the estimate was 507 for that area.
“Our populations are doing extremely well. A lot of people look to bears as an indicator of healthy environments because you have to have such a large landscape to support bears,” David Telesco, FWC Bear Management Program Coordinator, said. “That’s a good sign that our natural resources are in good shape.”
Telesco says as Florida’s population increases, there needs to be awareness that bears are living here too.
“Lots of people don’t associate Florida with bears, and there’s certain things that we need to do to make sure that we don’t attract them and cause any sort of conflicts,” he said. “We just did a range estimate, and now almost 50% of Florida has either abundant or common range. So, it’s actually common to see a bear in about half of Florida.”
The FWC is offering an online survey and two webinars for people to give feedback on the Bear Management Plan. More information is available here.
According to Telesco, bears are very scared of people and suggests if someone sees a bear, get into a safe place and make loud noises such as honking a car horn or yelling. The FWC says Florida black bears begin preparing for the winter during fall time by consuming extra calories to pack on fat. Feeding bears intentionally or unintentionally is illegal, but they can get into garbage and be fed that way.
“For black bears, it’s all about garbage. They’ll get into pet food, they’ll get into birdseed but the #1 issue that we have is bears find food in our garbage because it’s easier to forge in a garbage can than it is to pick up acorns or berries in the woods,” Telesco said.
To keep bears away from your home, the FWC offers the following tips:
- Secure household garbage in a sturdy shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container.
- Put household garbage out on the morning of pickup rather than the night before.
- Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
- Protect gardens, bee yards, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
- Encourage your homeowner’s association or local government to institute ordinances to require trash be secured from bears.
- Feed pets indoors or bring the dishes in after feeding.
- Clean grills and store them in a secure place.
- Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground.
- Remove wildlife and bird feeders or make them bear-resistant.