When Monica Merced walked out to her backyard in Williston, she expected to see her chickens, horse, tractor and acres of land—but Sunday morning, she found a black bear cub.
The 29-year-old photographer said the bear was sleeping soundly, nestled between two branches in one of her trees.
With a son, 7, and daughter, 2, at home, she said she didn’t want to wait too long to do something because she feared the bear could become violent.
“Everyone says, ‘As long as you don’t attack them or antagonize them, they won’t hurt you,’” Merced said. “But what if somebody’s kid runs out and runs around the corner of the house into it? You don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
She called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission— after snapping a few photos —in hopes that it would relocate the roughly 100-pound bear.
The FWC told her the bear was not a threat and as long as she didn’t provoke it, it would leave her property later Sunday night.
Though the bear was gone by Monday morning, Merced still worried for her family’s safety.
“It’s very scary not knowing where the bear is at,” she said. “I don’t worry about sending my kids out to play in my yard and it is a major worry now.”
She said she is worried the bear is one of three cubs recently released into Goethe State Forest–just a few miles from her home.
The cubs were released after their mother injured a man and his dog in Santa Rosa County. The bear was euthanized, leaving her cubs to fend for themselves, according to the FWC.
The Goethe State Forest is undergoing seasonal burns, and Merced said she thinks the cub sought her backyard as a refuge from the flames.
Beth Gordon, 53, lives about a half-mile from Merced’s home and said the FWC should not have released the bears in a populated area. Williston isn’t as rural as people think, she said.
“There are places they could have been other than this little slice of the Goethe,” Gordon said.
Gordon suggested the Ocala National Forest and Apalachicola National Forest as two alternative places to release animals in the future.
She is now worried the bear will wander into the wrong person’s backyard and scare local residents.
“I can’t believe [the FWC] created this situation and won’t do anything about it,” she said.
David Telesco, the bear management coordinator at the FWC, said the Goethe State Forest was the perfect spot to relocate the cubs. Small seasonal fires typically wouldn’t force the bears out, he said.
Telesco said remote locations allow bears to encounter less people, increasing their chances of survival. He said the cub is not a safety hazard for anyone in the area and that it is extremely rare for a black bear to injure a person.
If it posed a threat to residents, he said the FWC would euthanize the bear rather than relocate it.
Telesco’s advice to anyone who sees a bear in his or her backyard is simple: do nothing. He said they are afraid of people and will move along when they feel safe.
“If given a chance, [bears] just want to avoid people and do their thing.”