As children, we were told stories about "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" with Goldilocks eating the bear family's porridge and sleeping in their beds. In "Goodnight Moon," we read about a picture of three bears sitting on chairs. Not to mention Pooh walking with Piglet, and talking about honey pots. However, when they're rambling through your garbage and moseying about on your patio, they don't seem so friendly. They can be a dangerous nuisance to your family, your pets and themselves.
Recent numbers portray an exponential growth in black bear population in Santa Rosa County. After dwindling to as few as 300 bears in the 1970s, the Florida black bear population has bounced back to more than 3,000 bears today. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) reported a dramatic increase in bear reports for Santa Rosa County. From 10 calls in 2002 to 386 calls in 2012, that's an increase of a 40 fold change.
According to the FFWCC, reports of bear calls by zip code show 72 calls this year in 32583 which covers Avalon-Mulat, East Milton, Garcon Point area and Midway. There were 5 reports in Milton township, 32570 and one in 32571, Pace. Navarre lists the most reports with 32566 listing 167.
Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole says not only is the issue coming up regularly with his constituents, he expects bears to be on the next commission agenda. He also recalls two separate workshops within the last year regarding bear encroachment. He says FFWCC needs to have a better plan than the current educational presentation. "I'm tired of the same old song and dance. Give us a solution before a child or even an adult is mauled. The bears are becoming familiar with people, their babies are not foraging. They're learning to eat from trash cans and chicken coops," says Cole, "We are actively pursuing measures to be taken. Our people need to know this isn't Yogi or Teddy. They are wild animals."
Information regarding bear contact offered from FFWCC states bears are driven by their need to eat, so anything easily accessible and can be consumed is a potential bear attractant. Also, one can of garbage will surpass calories consumed in one day's forage.
Educational guidelines from FFWCC teach the most important step to keep bears away from human population is keeping garbage out of their paws. By doing so, it keeps the animal in the forest foraging instead of pilfering. A bear desensitized to suburbia becomes a bear losing his fear of humans and placing both the bear and people in danger. Without this fear, a bear can become bold and demanding, causing his chances of induction into relocation less likely to be a success if he's captured.
Cole agrees with the difficulties with relocation and also with "the state's reluctance to selling tags on bears." He says by lowering the bear population responsibly, it will keep their growth under control. He says, "people don't have a problem selling tags for alligators, they're ugly. Bears look cute and cuddly; but if issuing tags is a solution, it should be looked at."
While Cole realizes his stance may be unpopular, he says it may be the only option to be proactive with the population problem.
"Santa Rosa County growth is not the issue. Our growth pattern throughout the last ten years isn't the issue. The boarders where the bears are coming from were not the areas of booming suburbia. It's a bear population problem. It's better to address this now than later," he says.