Bad News Bears? Not Really.
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Black bears in Collier County
State wildlife officials say it’s residents who need to take responsibility to coexist with the animals.
By DENISE ZOLDAN, Daily News Correspondent
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
As developers’ bulldozers continue to turn wildlife habitat into housing, a statewide increase in the number of close encounters between people and Florida’s threatened black bear was inevitable, state experts said Wednesday. <A TARGET="_blank" HREF="http://adsremote.scripps.com/event.ng/Type=click&FlightID=2051011&AdID=2064770&TargetID=2022045&Targets=2004150,2022045,2003237,1477,2003385,2004956,2005249,2005765,2022028&RawValues=&Values=193&Redirect=http:%2f%2fwww.advertisersite.com"><IMG SRC="http://images.scripps.com/1x1.gif" WIDTH=120 HEIGHT=240 BORDER=0></A>
During a two-hour law enforcement training seminar at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, about 20 Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers got a protocol pep talk and myth-busting education on how to handle the bear-vs-man calls for help.
State experts warned officers of the need to get control of the Collier County problem before it becomes as severe as it is in northeastern Florida near Ocala. That area gets about 1,300 black bear complaints annually, said Mike Orlando, the agency’s black bear program coordinator for the state.
“You may not be at that level yet, but it’s coming,” he said.
Orlando recently made national news when he was forced to shoot a tranquilizer dart into a black bear in Seminole County that was discovered up a tree in a mall parking lot next to Interstate 4.
Collier County’s estimated black bear population is 400 to 900, with most of the critters living in the eastern section of the county in Big Cypress National Preserve. The last bear count was four years ago.
But as more and more houses pop up farther east in Collier County, more and more bears are following their noses to Dumpster dinners and garbage can grab bags.
While the bears can be intimidating, with males weighing in at as much as 600 pounds, they are not known to attack humans. In fact, unlike alligators, there never has been a report of a Florida black bear attacking a human.
But the mere sight of a bear in the back yard can trigger panic.
Fish and Wildlife officers in Collier County have logged 36 calls involving bears so far this year.
The numbers have spiked recently because June and July are black bear mating season.
“Now officers are getting two and three calls a day,” said Joe Bozzo, a Fish and Wildlife biologist stationed in Collier County.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office reports 53 bear-related calls to 911 so far this year.
Most came from Golden Gate Estates, where some residents are beside themselves with anxiety and frustration.
“We’ve only lived here a year and we’ve had a lot of run-ins with them,” said Amanda Lofland, who just bought a home near De Soto Boulevard in the Estates, where she lives with her two small children and their father.
“There’s a bear trap that wildlife officers put in a week ago,” she said. “They said they are going to relocate (the bear).”
Bears have been spotted on U.S. 41 East, Collier Boulevard, Manatee and Radio roads, and Davis Boulevard, reports show.
One bear made headlines this month when it arrived at the King’s Lake subdivision off Davis Boulevard near Naples.
But wildlife officers are on the educational attack, saying residents are the ones who must make the adjustments. And relocation or euthanizing a bear is a last resort where the mistakes of people mean the bears must be destroyed.
“People are the stewards of the wildlife. They are the ones who can make the difference,” Wildlife Commission Capt. Jayson Horadam said.
Because the Florida black bear is a forest dweller, it dislikes open spaces and its first preference when surprised or frightened is to flee, Orlando told the law enforcers.
But if bears find a food source near humans, they will lose their fear of people.
And the black bear, which is the only bear species in Florida, can smell food a mile away.
That’s why officials say that the top tips to keeping bears and people safe are to keep garbage cans in the garage until the morning of pickup and to not leave pet food and small animals outdoors to attract the bears.
“It’s a personal responsibility,” Orlando said. “(People) are living in the forest.”
• Feeding or allowing bears to feed is illegal
• Bears that are used to getting human food can become a threat to public safety and must be destroyed
• To avoid a needless death, do not provide food for bears
• Store trash in a secure area
• Bring pet food inside
• Protect livestock with electric fencing
• Clean grills and store in protected area
• Remove wildlife feeders