Some hints and tips for reducing bear interaction
Only minutes expired before the discussion during last weekend’s annual meeting of the Gulf Pines Property Owners Association turned to bears.
One property owner noted that she had a black bear all but living underneath her home.
Another discussed the black bear of over 400 pounds that was rendering his trash cans immaterial.
And it is spring time and bears join shorebirds, flowers and a host of other species picking up the activity as the weather warms.
The cubs were born last month, breeding season is just around the corner, and the population of bears, in Florida and in this part of Northwest Florida, is on the rebound.
In Florida, the population of black bears has grown 53 percent to just over 4,000, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In the 1970s, there were fewer than 300.
In the Eastern Panhandle, which includes Gulf and surrounding counties, the bear population has exploded by nearly 90 percent; more than 1 in 4 of Florida’s black bears now lives in the Eastern Panhandle.
An area that has seen significant impacts, via development, to bear habitat which has only increased in recent years as changes in land ownership has meant a transition in land-uses.
In other words, fewer trees and the associated vegetation and space that bears, which have wide home ranges, enjoy: the typical home range is 15 square miles for females and 62 for males, according to the FWC.
The number one factor in bear/human interaction is food, the sweeter, the easier access, the better.
Bears have a better sense of smell than any land mammal, according to the FWC, seven times more acute to smell than a bloodhound.
And 80 percent of their diet comes from fruits, nuts and berries, nature’s sweeteners.
“Take away the source of easy food, and the scent of sweet food, and they will move on down the road,” said Dr. Pat Hardman of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County.
Indeed, the FWC notes that bears will not linger in any particular place where they do not find food.
The county, as discussed last weekend among Gulf Pines owners, has received FWC grant funding to purchase and distribute garbage can clasps, in St. Joe Beach and along St. Joseph Peninsula.
Some clasp sets remain; contact county offices if interested.
Hardman said in addition to some kind of protection from bears on the trash cans, uniformity within a subdivision or development was essential.
This is particularly true in an area where homeowners live adjacent to rental units.
Education of short-term renters is essential, but also ensuring that all property owners, whether renting or living in their home, adhere to the same actions.
One rental unit with the food disposed of in an unsecured trash can will still attract the bears in the direction of all the cans.
“The only way to solve it is to have the whole group do it,” Hardman said.
The FWC, in its BearWise program, emphasizes a community-wide approach in addressing bear/human contact issues.
Gulf Pines property owners are also pushing Waste Pro to honor the terms of its waste hauling contract with the county and provide bear-proof cans to any resident who seeks one.
Some residents have been told the request is “wait-listed” but the property owners association noted that Waste Pro is in the third year of its original five-year contract with the county.
There are two options for two-year renewals, and the availability of bear-resistant containers (for $10 additional each month) is part of the contract.
Time to hold feet to fire.