Two Years After Grant Ends, Alachua County Schools See Little Improvement

By on April 18th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Alachua County was awarded more than $2 million in using the School Improvement Grant Section 1003(g) to help turn around the three lowest achieving schools in the district. Yet, despite the three-year grant, there seems to be slight academic improvement for Charles W. Duval Elementary School, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Elementary School and Hawthorne Middle/High School. Tenley Ross/ WUFT News

In 2010, Alachua County was awarded more than $2 million through the School Improvement Grant Section 1003(g) to help turn around the three lowest achieving schools in the district.

In spite of increasing improvement from individual students, the three-year grant did not produce the desired effect of pulling the schools from their overall low achievement, said Everett Caudle, director of project and staff development for Alachua County Public Schools.

The grant was awarded to improve student performance, which, until recently, was charted through FCAT achievement data. It now uses the Florida Standards Assessment data. Despite a slightly higher percentage of students improving after the grant, a school’s grade is the macro view, he said.

The schools were not failing, which showed growth. However, the grant has not made them A schools, Caudle said.

Charles W. Duval Elementary School was awarded $759,293, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Elementary School was given $627,776 and Hawthorne Middle/High School was awarded $635,832.

“When it comes down to looking at the results on the state tests and looking at whether the schools have improved their grades that in itself really has not happened,” he said.

But he said that doesn’t mean there haven’t been changes in improving the availability of school supplies.

During the first year, the money was spent on much-needed resources like computer software, new curriculums, books and extended day time. These efforts are still in place. They also added teachers and support personnel to reduce class size and were able to pay teachers bonuses.

The following years, the district was able to offer specialized training for teachers and add additional technology for classrooms.

The schools even went up in letter grades after the 2010-11 school year, but returned the following year, Caudle said. With education, dollars going into the system can take several years for an infusion of programs to make a difference, he said.

It’s frustrating that the schools are still struggling academically, he said, but it’s not because the children aren’t trying. The children coming from high-poverty areas don’t get exposed to the types of background information that a typical middle or upper class student might have, he said.

In many cases, they start way behind their peers and by the time they hit third grade, it’s reflected as low scores on assessments, Caudle said.

When the district applied for the grant, it had to choose from one of four models to implement in the schools. Alachua County chose the transformation model, which stated the principal had to be replaced, comprehensive curriculum had to be reformed and extended learning time and other strategies would be implemented. The other models included turnaround, restart and school closure.

**Tenley was emailed to verify that she made this. Credit it accordingly once she responds.**

Tenley Ross / WUFT News

The turnaround model has the district replace the principal, screen existing school staff, and rehire no more than half the teachers while improving the school through strategies like curriculum reform. With the restart model, schools need to be converted or closed and re-opened as a charter school. The school closure model has students sent to higher-achieving schools in the district.

Caudle said the district reassigned principals before the grant was given. He said it’s easy to blame the principals, but they were working hard with obstacles in high-poverty areas.

Lawson Brown Jr., principal for Charles W. Duval Elementary School, said he has worked to transform students’ attitudes about education, especially with the grant gone, the school has been struggling and is missing some resources. He became principal during the 2013-14 school year.

“Just pouring money into schools doesn’t fix the problem,” Brown said.

Through organization and training teachers from the funds, schools can become better, he said.

Every school is different but when schools deal with large at-risk populations, any extra money takes away a major hurdle of having to raise funds for materials, Brown said. Instead, administration can use creative ways to support students in education.

Through the grant, the extended day time allows his students more time to be engaged and prepared for academics. He said they can gain more language skills and have access to a mobile computer lab to practice math activities and do research.

There have been some success stories of how this grant has turned schools around. A Baltimore high school cut its dropout rate in half and raised test scores, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s blog.

The grant has given more than $5.5 billion to more than 1,500 schools across America to improve them since 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

Sue Wilkinson, director of grant management for the Florida Department of Education, said the department received its third three-year grant for districts to apply for after competing with the federal government for the best amount of funds. From there, schools applied to be selected for the grant. A committee then chose the schools that could be improved based on how they scored within the competition.

When people are involved and supportive there can be a major turnaround in school systems, she said. A child is not going to automatically go from being a D student to an A student overnight. What it takes are many small milestones and the involvement from both parents and teachers.

“An uneducated society is a disaster,” Wilkinson said. “Educators want to see kids get better, that’s the whole goal.”

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Vietnam War Veteran Rejects Violence, Embraces Peace

By on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 5:52 pm
Scott Camil, 68, points to a cartoon depicting himself and other members of the Gainesville Eight at their trial. The original cartoon was given to him by the artist, Bill Day. The Gainesville Eight was the name given to a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors charged with conspiracy to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami.

Scott Camil, 68, points to a cartoon depicting himself and other members of the Gainesville Eight at their trial. The original cartoon was given to him by the artist, Bill Day. The Gainesville Eight was the name given to a group of anti-Vietnam war protestors charged with conspiracy to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. Taylor Bello / WUFT

Scott Camil said he wanted to be a hero.

He spent four years in the U.S. Marines fighting the North Vietnamese and four decades trying to make peace.

The 68-year-old veteran sergeant is one of 2,709, 918 Americans who fought in Vietnam. He was featured in “The Winter Soldier,” a documentary based on the investigation of United States policy in Vietnam.

He is also co-founder and president of the Gainesville chapter of Veterans for Peace, which partners with other organizations around the area to promote peace. Some of the projects include the John A. Penrod “Brigadas” Award for Peace and Justice, two Peace Scholarships of $500, the annual Memorial Mile event during Memorial Day weekend, the Peace Poetry Contest for Alachua County students and protesting American militarism around the city.

Camil was also a member of the Gainesville Eight, a group of anti-war protesters taken to trial on charges of conspiracy to violently disrupt the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1972. The Eight were eventually found not guilty.

On April 30, veterans around the country will be filled with solemn remembrance on the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s end. This, in part, is what has fueled Camil’s activism. 

The war in Vietnam officially ended on April 30, 1975, when the city of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the last American soldiers were evacuated by helicopter. But in Camil’s eyes, the U.S. has only been repeating Vietnam in new places. He has been active in anti-war movements since the 1970s.

“You can’t export democracy at the point of a gun,” he said.

The Bully’s War

Camil graduated from Hialeah High School in 1965. Three days later, he entered boot camp and began the process of becoming a U.S. Marine. He said he looked forward to doing what he called his “duty as a man” and fighting for democracy.

After completing basic, infantry and jungle warfare training, he volunteered to ship out right away.

“I spent my 20th and 21st birthdays in Vietnam,” Camil said.

Camil said he followed orders just like any soldier should.

He saw his friends become men, he said, and he saw them die.

Despite seeing Vietnamese civilians tortured, raped and mutilated, he volunteered to stay for a second tour.

Camil said he had gone into the military wanting to defend his country, believing the U.S. had a right to overthrow communism, so that people could be free. He said he wanted to fight for the democracy that he and other Americans enjoyed.

“I was proud of what I’d done,” he said. “I believed the war was right.”

College changed that perspective.

After he returned to the U.S. in 1967, the future University of Florida graduate first enrolled in Miami Dade College with the money he received from the GI Bill of Rights. For his American History class, he read a required text called “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. He said at first, he disagreed with the book, which approaches U.S. history through the eyes of minorities who were abused, massacred and oppressed from the colonial era all the way through the Vietnam conflict, according to Zinn.

Camil said he went to talk to his professor about the book, and the professor gave him more material to read. The more he read, the more he said he believed Zinn’s thesis was correct: America is a bully.

Camil now feels that he and his friends were used.

“I killed people in hand-to-hand combat,” he says, his voice cracking. “I murdered people who were defending their homes.”

He now calls “A People’s History” the most important book he owns.

A Hero For Peace

Camil left the Marine Corps with 12 medals: two Purple Hearts, a Combat Action Ribbon, two U.S. Presidential Citations, a Good Conduct Medal — of which he was particularly proud — a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with three stars, a Vietnam Presidential Citation, a Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star and another with Palm Leaf, and a Vietnam Service Medal.

In 1971, he threw them all away.

Camil, along with other members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, marched on Washington, and he said he cast his medals over a fence toward the steps of the U.S. Capitol building.

Decades later, his wife Sherry, 64, requested replacements for some of his medals. She said she wanted him to have them.

“It was an honor of a sort even if he didn’t agree with the policy,” she said.

Now, he wants to be a hero for peace.

In 1987, after a fact-finding trip to Central America, he said he became enraged at what his country was doing in other parts of the world. When he returned, he founded the Gainesville branch of Veterans for Peace, which has more than 100 chapters across the nation.

Pierce Butler, an associate member of Veterans for Peace, has been a close friend of Camil’s for more than 20 years.

Butler, 61, befriended Camil during a nonviolent standoff with anti-abortion protestors outside the Gainesville Women’s Health Center, which Butler said had requested help escorting potential patients inside due to the large number of protestors harassing them. Butler and Camil were joined by civil rights activists, labor activists and even environmentalists, Butler wrote in an email.

The Gainesville Veterans for Peace stayed on for more than a year after that to help provide security for the center.

“As a friend, he’s totally loyal, helpful and generous,” Butler said of Camil, “but as an organizer he doesn’t put up with laziness, unfilled promises or avoidable mistakes.”

The intensity Camil handles projects with inspires some people, but it also makes others, the thin-skinned people, pull back, he said.

“You just can’t talk about Scott without saying ‘but’ because, without being two-faced at all, he creates a contradictory response in almost everybody,” Butler explained.

Camil is Jewish, but he supports Palestine. He is a proud Marine, but he opposes any and all wars.

Even when he fills out forms and is asked for his race, he always marks “Other” and writes in “Human.”

“I’m not an American first,” he said. “I’m not Jewish first or a white man first. I’m a human being first.”

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April 17, 2015: Afternoon News In 90

By on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Rebekkah Mar produced this update. 



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In The News: Jobless Rate Remains Unchanged, Gyrocopter Draws Attention, Lawsuit Filed Against Winston, Sunshine Law Violations To Be Mediated

By on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 3:58 pm
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April 17, 2015: Morning News In 90

By on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 11:49 am

Kelly Audette produced this update

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Suwannee Lake Renovations Still Progressing

By on April 17th, 2015 | Last updated: April 16, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Almost two years after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission closed Suwannee Lake to the public for renovations, some of the changes are now visible.

For almost 50 years, the lake has provided a natural habitat for wildlife in North Florida, as well as a popular fishing spot for local anglers.

“Suwannee Lake has had a history of being a really good fishery and growing a lot of big bass and panfish for the anglers that like to catch those,” said FWC biologist Allen Martin, who’s been helping oversee the project. “Over time, the habitat had just degraded and the fish populations declined, therefore fewer people were coming out here to fish.”

Some of the renovations have included removing muck off the lake’s bottom, planting new vegetation, restocking the lake with various kinds of Florida sport fish, and providing better access for anglers. This involved building 2 islands on the south side of the lake.

“If you want the fishery to remain good on a lake where you have this stabilized water level, it’s pretty important to do some habitat work and some management. Otherwise, it’s going to degrade over time,” Martin said. “By doing this, they’re definitely able to increase the fish population and provide a better fishing place for anglers to come for years.”

The renovations have also generated renewed interest in the lake, including regular customers at Green’s Marine and Outdoors in Lake City.

“They’re excited about having a new fishery, a renewed body of water, enhanced access, and an improved habitat,” said Lee Beach, a Green’s store clerk. “I think it’s a win for the citizens here in Live Oak, Lake City, and the surrounding areas.”

According to Martin, FWC plans to restock the lake with another batch of sport fish soon. While officials don’t have a specific date set to reopen the lake, they hope to reopen it either at the end of the year or in early 2016.

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Undercover Program Targets Underage Sales Of Alcohol

By on April 16th, 2015 | Last updated: April 16, 2015 at 2:05 pm
Bartender Greg Marsh checks the ID of 21-year-old Anel Henry at Gainesville House of Beer. The bar trains their staff to look out for discrepancies between IDs to make sure they are real. Christine Alvarez / WUFT

Bartender Greg Marsh checks the ID of 21-year-old Anel Henry at Gainesville House of Beer. The bar trains their staff to look out for discrepancies between IDs to make sure they are real. Christine Alvarez / WUFT.

When Leslie Sammis’ client was caught selling alcohol to minors at his store, she said the process wasn’t fair.

Sammis, a criminal defense attorney from the Tampa area, represented a client who was the target of a sting operation led by police officers.

The operation utilized investigative aides, or underage student participants, that would come in and try to purchase alcohol to catch cooperating vendors.

When underage aides were sent into her client’s workplace, Sammis said she felt they did not look underage and that police had unfairly targeted her client. 

Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) has an investigative aide program where students between the ages of 14 and 19 are paid to go undercover at different locations, wrote Chelsea Eagle, deputy director of communications at the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, in an email. They are compensated for their time, receiving up to $50 for meals, mileage and other expenses, she said.

Parents have to give permission to allow the students to participate. Participants are supervised by police officers throughout the operation.

Eagle said the ABT has been using the investigative aide program since July 1, 1989 to assist in enforcing underage drinking laws.

She said it has been highly beneficial to identify places that are not following state law. In 2014, 22 licensed sellers were found out of compliance based on 181 surveys conducted in the Gainesville district, which includes Lafayette, Gilchrist, Alachua, Dixie, Levy, Marion, Citrus and Sumter counties.

If a vendor is caught selling alcohol to a student aide, the aide will immediately report back to officers to be debriefed and will prepare a sworn statement of the incident, Eagle said.

According to Florida Statute 562.11, it is unlawful for any person to sell, give, serve, or permit to be served alcoholic beverages to a person under 21 years of age or to permit a person under 21 years of age to consume such beverages on the licensed premises. A person who violates this commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.

The program is offered in 12 cities across the state, including Gainesville.

“[Because] the police get to recruit the young people, they can kind of pick the ones they want, and I don’t know if that’s uniform across the board, or if they just pick young people that look older,” Sammis said. “Then they coach the young people in what to say.”

Although they are briefed before an investigation, the students that apply are only chosen if they meet specific criteria set by the agency, Eagle said.

Sammis said she doesn’t think the sting operations are a good idea because trained underage individuals will not act the same way normal underage individuals would when attempting to purchase alcohol.

“I think it’s a good way for them to issue citations, and it’s a good way for them to generate revenue,” Sammis said. “But it’s not necessarily a good way for them to catch the bad guys. They’re not catching the bad guy. They’re just getting good at figuring out how to go in and make the purchase.”

Gainesville House of Beer, at 19 W. University Ave., has never seemed to have a problem with underage drinking, manager Alex Whelpton said.

Whelpton has been manager for over a year and said the establishment trains its employees to know what to look for when it comes to IDs.

When HOB first opened three years ago, Whelpton said those in charge of licensing and monitoring bars were really strict, so they tried to cover their bases and take extra steps to abide by the law.

He also said their distributors offer a lot of support by providing informational pamphlets every three to four months.

“One that’s really consistent in doing it is Burkhardt. They’re the Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch distributor here in town,” Whelpton said. “They give us a pamphlet and [it] has pictures of all 50 states’ IDs and it gives you little pointers as to what to look at, what’s forged and what’s not, and that’s really useful for us.”

In order to make sure the employees were on the lookout, the bar would stage its own undercover operations.

“Our owners in the past [sent] in a lot people with IDs that aren’t 21 to see if our door guy catches it and to see if bartenders catch it,” Whelpton said.

Training employees to check for IDs isn’t just routine in bars. Some retail stores that sell alcohol also make it a priority.

“We focus our efforts on training and ensuring our associates understand and comply with laws that governs the sale of alcoholic beverages,” said Dwaine Stevens, media and community relations manager for Publix Super Markets, in an email. “We support law enforcement’s efforts to protect our children against underage drinking.”

The use of investigative aides is a law enforcement operation. According to Eagle, the details regarding specific plans such as decisions regarding when or where an operation will take place is confidential in the interest of safety for those involved.

Eagle said although different people might see the program in positive or negative ways, its main goal is ensuring safety in the community.

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New Program Hopes To Bring Nutritional Education To Elementary Schools

By on April 16th, 2015 | Last updated: April 16, 2015 at 6:15 pm
Students at Stephen Foster Elementary School learn the basics of nutrition education from retired University of Florida dietetics professor Dr. Pam McMahon. Kids in the Kitchen is a county wide program sponsored by the Department of Children and Families, UF and the USDA. Photo courtesy of Bailey Bruce / Foster Elementary Afterschool Coordinator.

Students at Stephen Foster Elementary School learn the basics of nutrition education from retired University of Florida dietetics professor Dr. Pamela McMahon. Kids in the Kitchen is a county-wide program sponsored by the Department of Children and Families, UF and the USDA. Photo courtesy of Bailey Bruce / Foster Elementary Afterschool Coordinator.

Soba noodles and veggie tacos are not entrees found in every school cafeteria.

Students at Stephen Foster Elementary School in Gainesville will be introduced to these foods as part of a county-wide pilot nutrition education program called Kids in the Kitchen.

The program was started on March 11 by Pamela McMahon, a retired University of Florida faculty member and registered dietician.

Kids in the Kitchen is the first program of its kind in Alachua County, providing nutritional education in an after-school setting.

McMahon said Foster Elementary was selected for the program because, as a Title 1 school, its students qualify for 100 percent free lunch.

The students work with McMahon and her UF student volunteers to learn about nutritious foods. She introduces these foods using a curriculum created by the University of Missouri and she diversifies it to meet the needs of her students.

The students play food-related games to handle fruits and vegetables that many of them were not previously familiar with.

“The mission of the program is to provide nutrition education based on dietary guidelines for Americans, in hopes of preventing childhood obesity,” said Annie Sheldon, the Family Nutrition Program coordinator for Alachua County.

The cooking supplies and food used at Foster Elementary were donated by the Family Nutrition Program at the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, the Florida Component of the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education.

In order for a school to qualify to participate in Kids in the Kitchen, 51 percent or more of its students must be receiving free or reduced lunch. This qualification ensures the program reaches more low-income students in Alachua County.

Many Foster Elementary students live in low-income neighborhoods near the school, said Bailey Bruce, the extended day program enrichment coordinator. For some students, the meal they receive in school is their only true meal of the day.

Right now, the pilot program has 10 students, but Bruce hopes to see it grow next year.

“Next year, we would love to include more students and provide more in-depth skills to them,” Bruce said.

McMahon said Alachua County is doing a lot to make sure students have access to healthier meal options. More school gardens are popping up, and the county has hired a local organic farmer who provides lettuce to the schools.

“Part of it is introducing them to things we take for granted,” McMahon said.

Sheldon hopes the program will take off next year and even expand into the normal school day.

“If you don’t have access to healthy foods, there is a higher risk of obesity because you are eating cheap foods and junk,” Sheldon said.

Currently, 20 elementary schools meet the qualifications for nutritional education to be provided by the county. Nutritional education is not mandated in the state of Florida. Programs like Kids in the Kitchen provide access to information students might not otherwise receive.

“We would be happy to take on as many schools as we can and are hiring additional program assistants so we can meet with as many programs in the county that qualify for funding,” she said.

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April 16, 2015: Afternoon News In 90

By on April 16th, 2015 | Last updated: April 17, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Melissa Marrero produced this update.

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Experts Caution Against Bear Hunting in Alachua County

By on April 16th, 2015 | Last updated: April 16, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Even though bear and human encounters remain an unlikely occurrence in Alachua County, people may soon be able to hunt bears in the area.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) met yesterday to review a proposal which would allow black bear hunting in specific areas throughout Florida. In Alachua County, bear hunting would be allowed at Hatchet Creek Wildlife Management Area, Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area and on all private lands.

Under the current plan, bear hunting would be allowed in four out of the seven units that make up Florida, according to Dianne Eggeman, director of the division of hunting and game management for the FWC.

Barr Hammock Preserve is the most recent area where bear-human conflict has occurred in Alachua County. No one was injured in the June incident.

Barr Hammock Preserve is the most recent area where bear-human conflict has occurred in Alachua County. Over the summer a Gainesville resident created a petition urging the Alachua County Commission to close the land to tourists. Nicole Wiesenthal / WUFT

Hunters would be required to have bear permits, which would cost $100 for Florida residents and $300 for nonresidents. Each person would be allowed to bag one bear per season. If the proposal is approved after the final vote in June, bear hunting would be allowed from Oct. 24 to Oct. 30, peak bear season, according to the FWC.

Bear hunting has not been legal in Florida for 20 years. Animal activists, hunters and conservation experts are skeptical about the effect legalizing it again would have on bear encounters and problems in Alachua County.

“I’m opposed to hunting black bears both in Alachua County and in Florida, in part because their numbers are still relatively low,” said Tom Kay, the executive director of Alachua Conservation Trust. “One of the things you’ll hear about black bears is the population’s been exploding, but there’s just been a lot more run-ins with people.”

Kay said the problem is a result of increased land development and human population in critical bear areas.

“There’s too much development going on where bears live, and the bears that are in the problem areas are getting moved to where there were no problems before which creates additional problems,” Kay said. “You also constantly have a new infusion of people who don’t have experience [with black bears].”

Kay said while bear hunting probably wouldn’t affect conservation areas in Alachua County, it could become an issue on private properties. He said instead of bear hunting, the FWC should focus on increased education about proper bear safety, like encouraging the use of bear-proof trashcans.

“There probably could be more public education,” Kay said. “In general, Alachua County has a relatively small population of black bears, which is another reason why it [bear hunting] shouldn’t be happening in Alachua County.”

Butch Ford, manager at Sapps Pawn Gun and Archery, 111 NW 6th St, Gainesville, said he doesn’t think hunting bears in Alachua County would affect the population because it’s so small that hunters may not even be able to find them.

“It’s like fishing in a lake that doesn’t have any fish in it,” Ford said. “Why go fish? I’ve been in Alachua all my life, and I’ve never seen a bear. I’ve hunted, but I’ve never seen a bear in Alachua County.”

According to the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department winter 2014/2015 newsletter, the Florida black bear is considered a threatened species in Alachua County and is ranked imperiled in Florida by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory because of its vulnerability to extinction.

Eggeman said the FWC chose to implement bear hunting because they thought it was the best way to stabilize the population.

“The main purpose is it’s the best tool available to manage the size of the wildlife species,” she said. “They’re abundant, healthy and growing beyond the limit of the habitat. In order to keep them from continuing to grow and grow and grow, we’re implementing hunting.”

The FWC has tried different approaches like imposing regulations to prevent bear feeding, but Bryan Wilson, the central Florida coordinator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said it’s not enough.

“It’s inexcusable given that only three years ago they were a threatened species,” he said. “Hunting bears is not the answer to human conflict.”

Wilson said the FWC should impose stricter rules on bear-proof trash cans. He said, according to the FWC, there was a 95 percent reduction in bear activity in areas where bear-proof trash cans were used.

Bear-proof trash cans, bear-proof dumpsters and bear education are the three critical goals in targeting the bear population problem, Wilson said.

“We believe the efforts spent in arranging bear hunting would be better used in outreach and to educate the leaders of areas on enforcing the bear act,” he said. “We don’t want bears to see human areas as areas of feeding.”

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