Information About Bear Management

The Florida black bear represents a great conservation success story in Florida. With this success, comes the challenge of responsibly balancing the needs of both people and bears. While, there is no single answer to eliminating bear conflicts, a comprehensive approach using several tools together can greatly reduce the likelihood of serious incidents or attacks in the future.

The FWC has a long-standing, proactive approach to bear management and human-bear conflict efforts and will continue to build upon that existing foundation. This includes:

  • Estimating bear populations and ranges
  • Regionally-focused management, with 7 Bear Management Units
  • Comprehensive efforts to reduce human-bear conflicts
  • Proactive engagement of partners and stakeholders, including Bear Stakeholder Groups
  • Using sustainable hunting as a bear population management measure.

In response to rapidly increasing conflicts and several incidents where bears seriously injured people, the FWC submitted and received funding for increased bear response and management from the legislature in 2014, which resulted in:

  • Increased capacity for field response by adding more traps, vehicles and other equipment
  • Additional staff to increase ability to respond to conflicts
    • 7 additional Bear Response Contractors
    • 3 full-time Area Bear Biologists
    • 2 Senior Wildlife Assistance Biologists

Human safety is paramount to the FWC. Staff has been accelerating efforts to reduce human-bear conflicts and will be even more aggressive in removing bears that may pose a public safety threat:

  • In 2014, the FWC euthanized a total of 49 bears because of their potential to pose a threat to public safety.
  • From January 1 to Sept 30, 2015, FWC euthanized 83 bears based on our more aggressive policies.
  • The FWC will continue to respond to human-bear conflicts and more proactively remove bears that may pose a public safety threat.

The FWC recently worked with the legislature to approve a restructuring of the citation process for the wildlife feeding rule, which now begins with a written notification (for unintentional feeding) and continues with subsequent violations on a graduated scale. These additional steps assist officers with enforcement of bear feeding rules.

Additionally, the FWC approved bear hunting as yet another tool in a comprehensive approach for managing bear populations:

  • Hunting alone is not likely to significantly reduce human-bear conflicts in urban and suburban areas; however, in other states it has proven to be an effective measure for managing bear populations. 
  • In June 2015, FWC had updated estimates of the Florida black bear population in two Bear Management Units (BMU) resulting from the statewide study currently underway. In the North BMU, the black bear population was estimated at 550 bears, more than doubling the estimate from 2002. In the Central BMU, the population was estimated at 1,300 bears, increasing nearly 30% over the previous estimate. This survey is the most ambitious, extensive and scientifically rigorous bear population survey ever undertaken in Florida.
  • Updated population information for three additional BMUs is expected next year and will be used to guide management efforts in subsequent years. 
  • Conceptual plans for hunting were presented in February. At that time, Commissioners asked staff to engage with the public on those plans.
  • In April, draft rules that would allow bear hunting were presented. Commissioners asked staff to publish notice of the proposed rule changes and return to the Commission meeting in June for final consideration.
  • At the June meeting, Commissioners approved a limited bear hunt.
  • At the September meeting, Commissioners approved the harvest objectives using the most recent population estimate data available [North and Central BMUs using 2014 data and South and East Panhandle using 2002 data and three year averages of known mortality (i.e. roadkill and management action)].

The FWC will continue to aggressively implement existing human-bear conflict avoidance measures and work to minimize the potential for future conflicts.

 

Short-term measures will focus on:

  • Continuing and expanding existing measures to reduce human-bear conflict, which include:
    • Partnering with counties, municipalities and homeowner associations to secure bear attractants and garbage in developed areas, including assisting with draft ordinances and/or acquiring funding to offset the cost of bear resistant garbage cans.
    • Providing outreach and education to affected neighborhoods about living around bears and ways to reduce conflicts.
    • Offering bear response training to local law enforcement and first responders in areas with bear issues.
  • Using hunting to help manage the bear population.
    • The FWC approved bear hunt, beginning in 2015, as a management tool to help stabilize bear populations in those areas that have large, sustainable bear populations.
    • Hunting is used to attain wildlife population objectives, such as stabilizing populations, rather than to directly resolve conflict issues.
    • Bear mortality of around 20% of the population annually should stabilize the population. The total of 20% mortality would include hunting, vehicle strikes, and FWC’s humane killing of conflict bears.
    • Hunting is one of several tools that can be used together to meet bear management objectives.
    • Hunting can relieve pressure on bear populations in certain areas, which could reduce the amount of bears entering suburban and urban areas. However, all states that allow bear hunting also have human-bear conflicts. Whenever bears and people live near each other, conflicts are possible as bears seek out human food sources such as garbage, bird seed and pet food.
    • The most successful way to reduce human-bear conflicts is to secure items that attract bears into neighbors.
    • The hunting framework, regulations and harvest objectives are conservative and consistent with biologically sustainable population objectives.
    • Regulated hunting has a long successful history of contributing to conservation in North America. It is a scientifically supported fact that bear hunting is biologically sustainable and the most effective tool for maintaining proper balance of bear populations relative to available habitat. Of the 41 states with resident bear populations, 32 of them have populations over 600 bears and conduct hunts. Many of these states have had bear hunting for decades, and every state with a bear hunt has stable to increasing bear populations.

Long-term measures will focus on:

  • Working with waste management, county and local governments to develop a cost-share program to provide bear-resistant trash cans for residential and commercial use. Initial cost of such programs can be high, so significant cost sharing or other financial incentives may be critical to success.
  • Promoting Bear Wise methods in communities throughout the state, but targeting 14 counties with the highest incidences of human-bear conflicts (i.e. In order from highest to lowest: Volusia, Seminole, Lake, Marion, Collier, Orange, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Bay, Franklin, Putnam, Leon, Wakulla, and Lee)
  • Periodically updating statewide bear population size and range estimates to guide management efforts and ensure that hunting approaches are sustainable and attain the desired management goals.
  • Maintaining and continuously improving Florida’s bear management practices.

 

 

 



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