(LEHIGH ACRES, FL.) -- A woman in Lehigh Acres in Lee County had a surprise Monday morning when she encountered a black bear outside of her work. Del Bagwell told officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) she was working at Country Cleaners in the Sunshine Plaza when she went outside at approximately 7:20 a.m. A black bear came running around the corner of the building and bumped into her.
''She was not knocked to the ground or injured,'' said FWC Officer Joanne Adams. ''She said she looked at the bear, and the bear looked at her. Then she raised her arms and backed up slowly to the store door.''
Bagwell then went inside the store and the bear ran off, Adams said.
''Ms. Bagwell did the right thing,'' said Dave Telesco, FWC Bear Management Program coordinator. ''She did not panic or run; she backed away slowly, giving the bear a clear escape route to run away.''
Seeing a bear in unfamiliar surroundings can be a surprising phenomenon. Even though the Florida black bear has increased in population in the past few decades, it is still considered a threatened species in Florida. As development encroaches on its habitat, it is not unusual for bears to be seen near human populations, but it is highly unusual for humans to come face-to-face with a bear.
However, if you do encounter a black bear at close range, take the following precautions: Remain standing straight up; back up slowly; speak in a calm, assertive voice; do not run or play dead; and leave the bear a clear escape route.
Summer is a very active time for bears. They are searching for a variety of fruits and other seasonal foods that grow throughout their range. Summer is also breeding season, when bears search far and wide for mates. Also, in late summer, juvenile bears disperse from their mother's home range and look for new habitat. All of those factors can bring bears into populated areas where they normally would not venture.
When wildlife appears in residential communities, the FWC urges residents to remove or secure anything that might attract animals, such as garbage cans, pet food, birdseed, outdoor grills and compost bins. If a bear continues to come into an area after all attractants have been removed and creates problems for residents, then the FWC will consider trapping the bear. Capturing bears is an option in circumstances where bears are causing a conflict or there is a safety risk.