Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties appear to have a bear of a problem with almost 600 registered complaints with the FWC.
Recently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) euthanized an adult black bear in the Wynn Haven Beach community of Mary Esther, because the female bear had killed a pet and livestock.
The bear that had to be put down, reportedly had raised two litters of cubs and been active in several neighborhoods in the area for a few years, but suddenly became more bold and protective of her cubs.
As people move out to more remote location the availability of human-provided foods like trash, bird seed and pet food in neighborhoods can cause a bear to completely lose her natural fear of people.
After multiple attempts, the FWC gave up trying to trap the mother bear on Nov. 29.
Her two cubs were captured and relocated northwest of Wynn Haven Beach onto Eglin Air Force Base property. While cubs normally stay with their mothers for 18 months, the chances of these cubs to survive is relatively good.
“The cubs have been with their mother long enough that they are no longer fully dependent on her,” FWC Bear Management Program coordinator Dave Telesco said. “Remember though that the worst thing people can do is to feed the re-located cubs.
“The best chance they have at survival is if they can learn to stay in the woods and not rely on people.”
The 250-pound female and her 100-pound cubs were much heavier than typical Florida bears living in the woods. Bears grow larger and produce more cubs when they have regular access to human-provided foods, which increases the number of bears living in neighborhoods and causing human-bear conflicts.
“This situation was preventable. If those bears did not have easy access to trash and other human-provided foods, they would likely have just passed through the neighborhood,” Telesco said.
Since May 1 of this year 312 bear complaints have been logged with the FWC in Santa Rosa County, while 267 bear reports have come from neighboring Okaloosa County.
Though black bears don’t really need to put on pounds to survive the state’s usually mild winters, they behave as if they do – eating about three times as much as usual to pack on the pounds.
One way to help the bears is to be extra diligent in securing food sources around their homes and businesses that can attract bears and create problems.
“Preventing bears’ access to food is the most important thing people can do to keep bears and other wild animals out of neighborhoods,” said Capt. Rob Beaton, area supervisor for the FWC. “If you are a Florida black bear, raiding a garbage can to eat leftovers may be more appealing than foraging in the woods for palmetto berries and acorns.”
It is against the law to have food and attractants out for bears to access. And as bears are looking for food, the easier a food item is to get, the more likely it is that a bear will take advantage of it.
To keep bears away from your home and neighborhood, follow these tips:
- Feed your pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding.
- Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container.
- Put household garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before.
- Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters with metal lids or metal-reinforced plastic lids and lock bars.
- Clean grills and store them in a locked, secure place.
- Remove wildlife feeders, or make them bear-resistant.
- Protect gardens, apiaries, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
- Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground.
- Encourage your homeowners association or local government to institute ordinances on keeping foods secure that would attract wildlife.
“Conflicts between Florida black bears and people are preventable,” said Beaton. “Most people who follow the FWC’s advice on how to bear-proof their homes and businesses don’t have conflicts with these large and powerful wild animals.”
The FWC has a wide variety of options from which people can choose to secure garbage and other items that attract bears. Go to MyFWC.com/Bear or call the Northwest Regional Office at 850-265-3676 for additional information.
You can also go to MyFWC.com/Bear to learn more about living in bear country.