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  • Writer's pictureAnnamarie Simoldoni

Invasion of the garbage snatchers? Florida’s black bears under scrutiny

Though the FWC received more than 6,000 bear-related calls, this may be a call to co-habitating with the species as Florida’s human population grows.

Looking for their bare necessities, wild Florida black bears are interacting more and more with humans in Franklin County.

Residents in this Panhandle county have called in a substantial 130 bear-related incidents between January and September 2023, according to the Apalachicola Times.

Photo courtesy of The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The numbers are so high that in late September, 2023, Florida’s “bear issue” reached the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith wrote a letter critiquing current bear management policy and sent the missive to the state level. Smith cited “43 citizen-bear dispatched calls,” the Apalachicola Times reported.

A kindling fear of bears then manifested in this year's legislative session.

One bill passed: SB 632, Taking of Bears, is cited as the “Self Defense Act” which amends Florida Statutes 379 and allows the “use of lethal force to take a bear without a permit or authorization.” The bill would allow individuals to use lethal force against black bears if a person believes that their lives or property are in danger.

Franklin County Cries Bear 

Thanks to the FWC’s conservation efforts, Florida's black bear population is the highest it has been in the last 100 years. With a staff of nine people “solely dedicated to bear management,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is armed with a 200-page Florida Black Bear Management Plan.

With this increase in bears combined with the continued growth of Florida’s human population, it may be little surprise that the FWC receives more bear-related calls.

Jenny Moreau – one of FWC’s Bear Management Program’s staff members – said in response to a News Watch records request that the agency has received a more than 6,000 bear-related calls statewide in 2023.

The majority of these calls did not report a serious threat.

“Most calls are handled over the phone with biologists without any law enforcement involvement,” Moreau wrote in an email.

The FWC provided a spreadsheet of 79 bear incident reports received from Franklin County between January and September of 2023. Only 23 of these reports required law enforcement intervention.

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Officers reported evidence ranging from a large paw print on the side of a pick up truck to a shredded porch screen indicating a previous bear presence. In an extreme case a bear trapper was called to wrangle a mother bear who was attempting to rescue her baby from a residence.

The vast majority of these reports involved aggregated bear sightings over a length of time. Male black bears typically occupy a 60 square mile territory and this species of bear is found throughout the Panhandle and peninsula. Florida’s adult black bears can weigh 250 to 350 pounds.

Franklin County residents typically expressed concerns over bears repeatedly breaking into trash cans and porches that contained outdoor refrigerators.

“Seeing a bear in a neighborhood is not necessarily cause for alarm,” FWC Public Information Director Ryan Sheets said in an email to the News Watch.

Doing the Bear Minimum

Unsecured trash and food are bear attractants. Bears are constantly in search of calories – no matter the source – to increase their body weight to prepare for winter hibernation. According to the North American Bear Center, bears can triple their caloric intake per day in the spring and summer months to 15,000-20,000 calories per day during the fall.

The solution to unwanted bear encounters is simple, according to Linda Masterson, the communication and marketing director of national organization BearWise. Masterson spoke with the News Watch for a story in December.

“If you’re going to order food from DoorDash at night, open the door when (the delivery) gets there,” she said. “Don’t live in bear country and have somebody leave 20,000 calories on your doorstep.”

This story is a part of the News Watch’s Legislative Reporting Unit.


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