The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has signed an agreement with a trash and recycling firm, aimed at reducing human-bear conflicts in Northwest Florida.
The memorandum of understanding with the firm Waste Pro USA comes after FWC in June narrowly voted against holding a bear hunt this year. The black bear population has grown from about 500 in the 1970s, to an estimated 4,300 adult bears today.
“I’m probably not saying anything that the biologists don’t already know, but bears are smart and they’re instinctive creatures,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski. “Their sense of smell, believe it or not, is seven times that of a bloodhound.”
A two-day hunt in 2015, the first in the state in two decades, resulted in 304 bears being killed, some of them no doubt having wandered into residential areas. Yablonski says securing trash is the best way to prevent human-bear interactions.
“There’s easy to get food and there’s hard to get food,” Yablonski said. “And the bear will always go for the easy to get food. Unsecured trash cans to bears are like going to an all-you-can-eat country buffet. It’s all easy and all spread out good for the taking.”
Bear-resistant containers cost more than standard trash and recycling bins. A traditional 95-gallon container costs about $60, while a more durable container with a bear-resistant lid runs around $200. Loyd Childree is with Waste Pro.
“I’ve come to realize just how important it is for us to secure everyday garbage,” said Loyd Childree with Waste Pro’s office in Panama City.
FWC has secured $825,000 from the Legislature to help pay for the bear-proof containers. But if local governments refuse to match the funds, residents and business owners may be stuck with the tab for the containers. Childree, whose kids love the outdoors, says the containers are a vital safety measure in some parts of Florida.
“For me, it was very personal; for Waste Pro it just makes good sense to partner with FWC in this venture,” Childree said. “Hopefully moving forward, we’ll get some more of the waste providers on board and be able to keep all of our bear encounters to a minimum.”
While black bears normally are too shy to risk contact with humans, Becca Nelson at Fish and Wildlife says if they’re hungry they’re not above raiding garbage cans. She reminds everyone of a sad but true 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.”
Bear-proofing a residence is fairly straightforward, and usually begins with an evaluation of the property. But FWC’s Becca Nelson says don’t stop with the containers.
“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.”
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 your vehicle.
More information can be found at www.myfwc.com/bear.