The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reminds the public to be aware that bears are now or soon will be on the move as they are leaving their winter dens. There are important things people can do over the next few months to reduce negative interactions with Florida’s largest land mammal.
“Now is the time to expect bears to show up looking for food,” said Dave Telesco, who directs the FWC’s bear management program. “If they can’t find food in your neighborhood, they’ll move on.”
Female bears that gave birth to cubs that were only 12 ounces in January are beginning to move around with their babies, which are now around 5 pounds. As the cubs continue to grow, the family unit will roam farther and could be more visible to people.
While black bears generally are not aggressive, a mother bear may try to defend her cubs. Never intentionally approach a bear. Do not assume when you see a lone adult bear that there are no cubs, because the cubs may be hidden nearby. When walking dogs, keep them close and be aware of your surroundings. Dogs can trigger defensive behaviors from bears.
Keep human sources of food, like garbage, birdseed and pet food, secure from bears so they won’t wander into your neighborhood this spring looking for an easy meal. Use a bear-resistant trash can, build a bear-resistant trash can shed or modify your existing trash can with hardware to make it more resistant. Instructions for these methods, plus a video on how to use an electric fence to deter bears can be found at www.pinterest.com/myfwc/bear-necessities/.
If you do not have a bear-resistant garbage can, consider building a bear-resistant trash can shed. In Collier County today, the FWC is partnering with local Boy Scout volunteers to build sheds that will deter bears from accessing garbage. The FWC received a grant from the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, using proceeds from the Conserve Wildlife license plate, to build and install 70 bear-resistant wooden trash can sheds for residents of two East Naples mobile home parks, who have no other way to keep their garbage away from bears.
As females and cubs increase their movements this time of year, they also increase the number of roads they cross. For the safety of yourself and bears, remember to slow down when driving, particularly on rural highways at dawn or dusk. Watch for road signs identifying bear crossing areas. Over 200 Florida bears were killed after being hit by vehicles in 2013.
Having conflicts with bears? Call one of the FWC’s five regional offices. Go to MyFWC.com/Contact, and click on Regional Offices to find the phone number for your region. Need to report someone harming bears or intentionally feeding them? Call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).