Florida wildlife officials are figuring out how to handle growing black bear population

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission seeks input from public

As we get closer to winter, more bear sightings are expected, as state leaders look to discuss ways to best manage the black bear population.

Even in the Sunshine State, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said bears will eat more than 20,000 calories worth of food a day this time of the year as they prepare for winter, which means your trash and recycling can become a buffet.

Just ask Phil Gallagher, whose neighbor captured video which shows a black bear grabbing a midnight snack Monday morning in this neighborhood near Wekiwa Springs State Park.

"It was like eight o'clock when he hit the trash the other night, came up between the houses here," Gallagher said.

Bear spotted

Check out this video from Barry Bryant, which shows a black bear getting a midnight snack and taking it near his home in Orange County....

Posted by Clay LePard News 6 on Tuesday, October 22, 2019

This all comes as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission takes a look at how it will handle the black bear population over the next 10 years as part of its management plan, with options including regulated hunting, bear birth control and relocating them.

The 209-page draft from the FWC Commission offers ways to keep the state's bear population, estimated at about 4,000, above the 3,000 mark.

The staff report doesn't recommend that the commission implement any of the management practices, but it does say, "If the management practices outlined in this plan are not implemented, there is a high likelihood of increasing negative interactions between bears and people."

The state's bear population has grown from 300 to 500 in the late 1970s, to more than 4,000 following a controversial 2015 hunt that remains the only time hunting black bears has been permitted in Florida in more than two decades. The October 2015 hunt resulted in 304 bears being killed.

Florida has had 13 incidents since 2006 of people requiring medical treatment because of encounters with bears, including eight since 2012.

Management options also include continuing use of the BearWise program, which started in 2016 and has used proceeds from sales of Conserve Wildlife license plates and legislative funding to assist local governments in providing residents and businesses with bear-resistant trash containers.

Another suggested technique involves working with the Florida Department of Transportation to reduce the chances of collisions between vehicles and bears. In 2018, the commission requested the transportation agency modify 20 bridges with fencing to guide wildlife, including bears, under roadways.

It's a plan that details how the bear population could almost triple by 2027, making a statewide population of bears the same as the size of Cocoa Beach.

But Gallagher told News 6 he doesn't need numbers to prove what he already knows.

"It's definitely gone up," he said."Every night you see a different one, from the small cubs, the juvenile cubs and then you got big boy, you see him every once in awhile. He's the grand daddy. He's taller than my truck."

The commission will take public comment through Nov. 6 via an online survey and will hold webinars Oct. 24 and Oct. 29. The plan is to replace a statewide bear-management framework created in 2012.

Click through the icons in the map below to see reported incidents of bear-related threats. The information is based on the FWC Central Florida bear management unit data.

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