In Northwest Florida, often times animals make the news more than people do. Being from a larger city in the Midwest, I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of wildlife in between our beach house and the woods. One animal, more common than I would have guessed is the black bear, the only species of bear found in Florida. Did you know that the population of wild (and protected) Black Bear is growing? (Roughly 2,500 – 3,000 in Florida alone.) So, encounters with people are becoming more frequent.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, calls reporting black bear and human encounters have gone from 1,000 in 2001 to over 2,500 in 2008. And this is no small animal, the average black bear weighs between 150 – 400 pounds! Though black bears are generally not aggressive toward people, there are great safety rules for tourists and homeowners alike, when and if there is a bear encounter. In addition, there are ways to prevent attracting a black bear.
Don’t Invite the Bear to Dinner
A good rule of thumb is to know that anything that attracts a dog or cat, will also attract a bear. So, it stands to reason that pet food bowls should be brought in at night and stored in containers. Also livestock food, game feeders even bird feeders will attract a bear. Obviously, wild bears come looking for food and generally come back when they find it. So, be sure to secure garbage in a protected space.
Other things that can attract a bear that may or may not be as obvious are compost piles, barbeque grills and smokers. If you have a grill or smoker, be sure to clean it well with a degreaser. And clean the area to make sure food isn’t laying around. Lastly, since the majority of a bear’s diet comes from fruits, nuts and berries, gardens can also be an open invitation. By removing rotten fruit and harvesting when ripe, you can decrease chances of an encounter.
Don’t Poke the Bear
Although bears are powerful, the black bear is generally not aggressive towards people. Some bear movements that may seem aggressive aren’t. For example, a bear standing on his hind legs, is likely the bear trying to get a better look. Then there are signs that a bear is feeling threatened or cornered, such as huffing or pawing at the ground. But climbing a tree is actually a bear’s natural way of escaping when frightened. They are great climbers and may climb and stay in the tree until the danger subsides.
If you happen to encounter a bear, despite what you may have heard, “playing dead” is not the best idea. In fact, stand tall, and back away slowly into a secured place. Do not run or turn your back to the bear. If a bear is threatening safety of you, livestock, pets or causing damage to property, it’s time to alert a knowledgable authority. In Florida, that would be the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Their nearest regional office can be found on myfwc.com.
Until then, it’s good to be aware of ways bears are attracted and what to do should you encounter one. And remember if coming for vacation, camping in the area, or moving, Florida is considered “Bear Country.”