Florida’s black bear adapts quickly to its changing environment, which may be its greatest asset as well as its greatest downfall. Diminishing habitats in Florida have led to more instances of black bears in backyards, pools and garbage cans seeking an easy source of food and water. While seeing a bear for the first time creates an opportunity for the shutterbug, it also causes concern for some people who do not understand the behavior and habits of the Florida black bear, Florida’s largest land mammal and a subspecies of the American black bear.
Adult black bears typically weigh 150 to 400 pounds. The largest male bear on record in Florida weighed 624 pounds; the largest female weighed 342 pounds. (FWC photo)
Unfortunately, if a bear finds a source of food that is easily accessible, such as a garbage can or a dog’s food dish left on the back porch, the bear will keep coming back, regardless of human activity in the vicinity. Encouraging bears to associate humans with food – no matter how unintentional – may result in a death sentence for the bear. When bears become accustomed to this convenient way of finding food, situations can occur where bears may act in an aggressive way in their efforts to secure food. Then wildlife officials may have to intervene and euthanize bears that have become too comfortable in the presence of people.
Stephanie Simek, Black Bear Management Program coordinator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), advises that the responsibility for keeping bears and people safe requires an effort on the part of residents, as well as government entities. “If you are attracting opossums and raccoons into your yard, you can also attract bears,” Simek said. “Keeping garbage and food away from all wild animals is everyone’s responsibility.”
Florida bears are black with a brown muzzle and may have a white chest marking called a blaze. (FWC photo)
The Florida black bear exists in fragmented populations throughout the state. However, with diminished habitat from encroaching development and the human population continually increasing in the state, human-bear interactions are occurring more frequently. The FWC recognizes the importance of addressing the role of people to ensure that encounters with bears remain a positive experience.
Presently the FWC receives a multitude of calls from residents regarding bears, particularly in counties in the greater Orlando area, around the Ocala National Forest and in the Panhandle. Joy Hill, FWC spokesperson for the Northeast Region, says answering residents’ calls requires a balancing act. “The black bear is a threatened species in Florida,” Hill said. “So we have to manage these human-bear interactions while maintaining a biologically and socially acceptable bear population. The FWC continually tries new ways to address these situations, but the best way to help lessen negative encounters requires residents to take responsibility for wildlife attractants that may be in their own back yard.”
The FWC’s Web site provides downloadable instructions for building bear-resistant trash container caddies and for installing electric fences at MyFWC.com/bear . In addition, some communities in Franklin County in the Panhandle and Collier County in Southwest Florida are taking initiatives to put wildlife-resistant trash containers in schools, public parks and residential communities. These efforts prevent bears from making trash containers their source for meals and cut down on the number of negative human-bear encounters. To find out about wildlife-resistant trash containers, visit FWC’s Web site for links to manufacturers and distributors.
Anyone who experiences bear problems should contact the nearest FWC regional office. The phone number can be found in the State Government section of the phone book. “Black bears are not generally aggressive, even when confronted by humans,” Hill said. “However, they are large and powerful wild animals that need to be respected.”
The Florida black bear graces the Conserve Wildlife specialty license plate as a symbol for many of the species that will benefi t from the purchase
of this plate. Florida’s black bear uses a mixture of habitats that contain nut-, fruit- and berry-producing shrubs and trees. They live in eight main areas, from the Panhandle’s Eglin Air Force Base and the Apalachicola National Forest, to the Osceola and Ocala national forests in North and Central Florida, all the way down to the Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida.
Florida is home to a great diversity of wildlife species from alligators to roseate spoonbills. Yet the state’s development and population growth pose formidable challenges to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) mission of conserving the state’s fish and wildlife resources. As Florida’s primary wildlife agency, the FWC is responsible for managing and conserving Florida’s wildlife and its habitats. The Conserve Wildlife license plate was created to generate additional revenue to conduct the programs aimed at conserving Florida’s natural heritage.
The Conserve Wildlife license plate costs $17 more than a regular plate, with $15 of that going directly to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Inc., a not-forprofit organization supporting the activities of the FWC. The Wildlife Foundation places special emphasis on projects involving the Florida black bear. Survival of this species depends in part on conservation and management of its habitat, which in turn benefits many other wildlife species.
Conserve Wildlife license plates may be purchased at any authorized motor vehicle office, such as Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, local tax collector’s office, www.buyaplate.com , or a licensed tag agent or by visiting MyFWC.com .
To learn more about the Florida black bear, visit FWC’s Web site at MyFWC.com/bear .
— A PRODUCT OF THE FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION COMMISSION’S COMMUNITY OUTREACH —
This article originally published on July 19, 2009.
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