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[ft-l] black bears in Florida

of interest to hikers........



Joe Schaefer
Center for Natural Resources
P.O. Box 110230
1051 McCarty Hall
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL  32611-0230


July 27, 2000
CONTACT: Thomas Eason (850) 413-7379

Despite recent attacks on livestock in Umatilla and Eustis, the vast
majority of black bears are not a problem in
Florida. But, conflicts can occur when bears end up in populated areas in
search of food, said wildlife officials of
the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

"Black bears are shy, secretive and intelligent animals that generally work
hard at avoiding human contact.
Unfortunately, they sometimes learn to associate human development with food
and that is when their presence
can cause problems," said Thomas Eason, FWC bear-management section leader.

Eason said recent attacks on livestock in Lake County are infrequent but not
out of the range of behavior for
bears. The FWC has received 2,422 nuisance bear complaints statewide since
1980 and of those only about 6
percent involved bears killing animals.

Responding to the recent livestock depredations in the Umatilla area, FWC
biologists placed two traps in the area
frequented by the bear. The plan was to capture the bear, outfit it with a
radio tracking device, and release it in a
remote part of the forest away from human activity.

Since biologists have seen no bear activity during the past two weeks in the
Umatilla area, they have moved the
traps to other locations to handle other nuisance complaints. If attacks
reoccur, they would then redeploy the
traps accordingly.

Eason said the public can assist the FWC by reporting bear attacks on
livestock immediately to its regional

Eason said this year's drought has caused bears to roam over larger areas in
search of food. If the dry weather
continues, water and food sources will dwindle, prompting bears to range
even farther, increasing the likelihood
that some will end up in developed areas, scavenging for garbage cans and
outdoor pet feeders.

Bears normally range over large areas in search of food and are
opportunistic by nature. Their diet consists of
whatever is readily available at that time of year, Eason said. Usually,
bears are active from dusk until dawn.
However, if a bear finds a connection between humans and food, it may become
more active during daylight
hours and lose some of its fear of humans.

A bear's natural food supply is lowest in the spring and summer. At those
times, items like garbage, pet food,
charcoal grills, bird seed, fish food, domestic bee hives and corn may
attract a hungry bear.

Seeing a bear is not necessarily a cause for alarm, Eason said. But people
should use caution. Always keep in
mind that bears are wild animals. No matter how tame they may look, they can
react unpredictably.

Eason offers the following advice for when people see a bear:

      Never approach a bear,
      If a bear gives off warning signs, such as snapping jaws, slapping the
ground or bluff charging, it is a sign
      that the bear is feeling threatened and you should back away slowly
and leave the area,
      Do not attempt to run away; this may cause the bear to give chase.

People living in areas where bears can be found should never feed bears.
Steps to minimize or eliminate food
attractants should be taken in order to avoid conflicts. Some examples
include securing garbage in bear-proof
containers, keeping pet food indoors and using electric fences around
gardens, beehives or compost piles.

Most of Florida's bears are situated in six core populations located in and
around the Big Cypress National
Preserve; Eglin Air Force Base; the Ocala, Apalachicola and Osceola national
forests; and the St. Johns River
corridor. Bears also reside in two remnant populations located in and around
Chassahowitzka National Wildlife
Refuge and Glades and Highlands counties. A few bears live in other small
habitat blocks scattered across the
state (see map).

At the turn of the century, up to 12,000 black bears roamed Florida. Today,
biologists estimate the black bear
population at 1,500 to 2,000. However, there is evidence that the population
is increasing in some areas of the

"There are several indications of an expanding bear population," Eason said.
"Nuisance bear complaints have
soared during the past decade as well as the number of roadkills. Our
biologists also have observed increased
bear activity in the field."

Even so, Eason said habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and roadkills, all
by-products of Florida's rapidly growing
human population, threaten the survival of the Florida bear. It is listed as
a threatened species by the state of

To help raise awareness about bears, the FWC will cosponsor the Florida
Black Bear Festival Saturday, Sept. 30
from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the city park in Umatilla. The festival will
have children's activities, field trips, booths,
displays, music and art. For more information call 407-295-1411 or visit
www.flbearfestival.com on the Internet. In
addition, a brochure titled "Living with the Florida Black Bear" is
available by writing the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission, Division of Wildlife, 620 South Meridian Street,
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600.

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