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Florida Wildlife Conservation Urges Floridians To Become 'Bear Aware'

Photo via Flickr// Florida Fish and Wildlife

Residents in the Florida Panhandle are being encouraged to become “Bear Aware:” keeping bears and other wildlife away from their homes.

Florida’s largest land mammal is a conservation success story. Only a few hundred black bears were around in the 1970s. Today, more than 4,300 roam the state and, in some cases, they mosey into residential areas.

While black bears normally are too shy to risk contact with humans, if they’re hungry they’re not above raiding garbage cans. Plus, they can smell food from over a mile away. Becca Nelson at the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reminds everyone of a sad adage: “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

“Do not feed black bears,” said Nelson. “Once bears become habituated to gaining that food access into your neighborhood, they’re going to gradually lose their fear of people. If you’re kind of close to them you want to scare them away. Make loud noises to get them to retreat, and definitely secure your attractants so they won’t return.”

Food-conditioned bears that lose that instinctive fear of humans are a public safety risk, and in turn must be destroyed by FWC officers. Bear-proofing a residence is fairly straightforward, and usually begins with an evaluation of the property. Biologists at FWC are standing by.

“You can contact our regional office, and they can walk you through the phone,” Nelson said. Or finding ways to retrofit your garbage can; [or] putting pet food up inside overnight.”

The focus is on garbage cans. Nelson says contact your local waste-service provider to see if they offer bear-resistant containers. If not, see if it will at least service such a can, that you can purchase at home improvement stores. And Nelson says don’t stop there.

“Put away bird feeders; [bears] would be attracted to those as well,” said Nelson. “Also you want to make sure that if you have pets around, keep them secure, and keep an eye on them when they’re out in the yard. Make sure you’re doing those things in order to prevent the bears from coming back.”

Besides eating almost anything, keep in mind that black bears can also be a danger to farms.   

“If you have livestock, crops or anything like that, they’ll come for those,” Nelson said. If it’s small enough, a (sic) electric fence might be appropriate.

Other tips: keep outside doors closed and locked when not in use. Round door knobs are harder for bears to manipulate than flat or lever-style handles. And never leave food or anything scented inside of your vehicle.

More information can be found at www.myfwc.com/bear.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.