NAVARRE — Bears like Santa Rosa County.
Just about very year, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission receives hundreds of calls about bears in the county, the highest concentration of the calls in the south end. As a way to inform residents about best practices to avoid bear disturbances, State Representative Doug Broxson and FWC held an informative workshop in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church in Navarre.
This was the third workshop Broxson and FWC have held in Santa Rosa County in the past two years. It’s timely since June and July is breeding season.
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“We can’t eliminate all problems, but there are some things you can do to eliminate most of the problem,” Broxson told the room.
Statewide, FWC has seen a rising number of calls about bears since 1990. Last year, they had more than 6,000 calls, explained Kaitlin Goode, FWC area bear biologist.
In the west panhandle, there are 140 Florida black bears, but according to some of the local residents at the meeting, they seem much more prevalent.
George Sims, who lives on Holley Point Road, complained that bears were undeterred by the electric fence he keeps around his apiary. He said he’d like bear hunting to come back.
“I had a chain link fence, they just crashed the fence down, then I got an electric fence ...” he remarked. “It’s been a problem for the last 10 years.”
Sims is in favor of reinstating bear hunting, saying he has even resorted to shooting at a bear to make it run away, to which one of the FWC biologists politely reminded him that that was against the law. Residents can call FWC to trap a bear or obtain a depredation permit.
Bears are typically not predatory animals and reported attacks on humans are rare, Goode explained as she shared a photo of a bear hiding in a tree from a cat.
‘They’re really big scaredy cats for the most part,” she said.
Bears can get used to people — and they especially get used to getting a regular meal, hence the evening’s emphasis on securing garbage cans. About 75 percent of the bear-related calls FWC receives statewide are about a bear in garbage.
Residents can store their garbage cans until morning pickup, retrofit cans or purchase bear proof cans. Bird feeders are also a culprit and should be taken in at night.
Recently, FWC met with Santa Rosa County Commissioners to discuss implementing and ordinance that makes it illegal to intentionally feed bears or allowing the placement of food or garbage to attract bears. Two counties in Florida, Seminole and Lake, have already passed an ordinance.
“Seminole County has seen such a drop ... and it’s a prime bear habitat,” Goode said. “Lake County just passed it last week.”
After the workshop, FWC biologists and officers were on hand to answer further questions.
Diane Smith drove from Pace to attend after finding some “scat” in her backyard that she guessed belonged to a young bear and wanted to be prepared.
“I guess I’ll have to reconsider my bird feeders,” she said.