Wildlife officials are warning Floridians to be aware of bears as the mammals become more active during the fall season.
Bears are drawn to neighborhoods in autumn for the easy access food in garbage cans as they begin to prepare for winter, and the animals can require up to 20,000 calories a day, according to a press release Tuesday from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Florida’s bear population stands at slightly above 4,000, the release says.
“An increased number of bears looking for food in areas where people live and work can potentially lead to more conflicts,” Nick Wiley, the commission’s executive director, wrote in the release.
The commission is accepting proposals from local governments for programs that can measurably reduce human-bear interaction to receive state funding, the release says.
The proposed programs must be committed to educating people about bears, avoiding them and keeping communities safe. The $825,000 being offered comes from a $500,000 investment from Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature, and $325,000 from the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, according to the release.
Most human-bear interactions come from the animals getting into garbage, bird seed or pet food, David Telasco, the commission’s bear management program coordinator, told WUFT News.
The primary issue with bears in neighborhoods is that they can live off human garbage, but without the reward of food, they will quickly move along, Telasco said. The chances of an attack are unlikely, he added, with only 15 bear-related injuries in the history of the state.
“I think we can live with bears without conflict,” he said. “We know it works. We just have to make sure we’re doing the right things to make that happen.”
Bears can now be found throughout North, Central and South Florida, even in busy suburbs, Telasco said, but “really, where we see large areas of forest, you’re going to have bears.”
In the case of coming face-to-face with a bear, people should remember that the animals are the ones more afraid of the interaction, but they’re still wild and powerful, he said.
To keep bears away from homes and neighborhoods, the FWC recommends these tips:
- Secure household garbage in a sturdy shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container.
- Put household garbage out on the morning of pickup rather than the night before.
- Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
- Protect gardens, bee yards, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
- Encourage homeowners associations and local governments to institute ordinances that require trash to be secured from bears.
- Feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding.
- Clean grills, and store them in a secure place.
- Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.
- Pick ripe fruit from trees, and remove fallen fruit from the ground.