Evaluate Your Neighborhood

BearWise is a community effort, but you can make a difference as an individual. Invite neighbors to get BearWise with you! If you already have a community group, visit our webpage for more information on how the FWC can help

Florida’s BearWise goal is to reduce conflicts and promote coexistence between people and bears.  To be BearWise, communities must:

  1. identify and secure all potential bear food sources,
  2. implement compliance measures to ensure food sources are inaccessible to bears,
  3. understand appropriate responses to bear interactions, and
  4. know when and how to report bear activity.

Bears will likely return to access food sources even after just one visit and can easily become habituated to human presence.  These bears can become a public safety risk and in turn must be killed by FWC for learned behaviors that include accessing unsecure trash.

What can you do?

First, conduct a neighborhood evaluation and focus on the following:

  • Spreading Awareness
    • Know what to do if you see a bear and educate your neighbors!  Contact FWC for brochures and other literature you can distribute in your community.
    • Implement a Bear Alert system
      • Appoint a Bear Ambassador who will notify residents about reported bear activity via signs, email, social media, and/or phone calls.
    • Maintain Signage
      • Display a permanent sign or otherwise appropriate notice External Website at the community entrance to inform guests of bear presence and Bear Wise policies in your area.  Seasonally changing messages can make signs more dynamic and increase awareness.  For additional assistance, contact the University of Florida’s Dr. Mark Hostetler at 352-846-0568 or hostetm@ufl.edu.
  • Reporting Bear Activity
    • Let your neighbors know when and where to contact the FWC Regional Office about bears. If your neighborhood is near bear habitat, seeing a bear walk through your neighborhood is not necessarily a concern and does not need to be reported to FWC.  If the bear is accessing your trash can, grill, or bird feeder, contact FWC to speak with a biologist during business hours for advice on how to prevent future interactions.
    • To report an emergency situation or illegal activity, including the feeding or harming of bears, contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 to speak with FWC law enforcement.
  • Securing Your Home, Property, and Animals
    • Limit Natural Food Sources
      • Shrubs, Trees, and Bushes
        • Pay extra attention to any plants that produce nuts, seeds, and/or berries. Harvest ripened and remove fallen nuts, seeds, or berries. If bears are still attracted to your plants, construct an electric fence Adobe PDF for added protection.
        • What do bears eat Adobe PDF (or what DON’T they eat)?
      • Gardens
        • If you have a vegetable garden, pick any vegetables and edible roots as soon as they ripen.  Remove any vegetables that fall on the ground. If bears are still attracted to your garden, construct an electric fence Adobe PDF to deter bears.
      • Compost Piles
    • Secure Pets and Livestock
      • Cats and Dogs
        • Securely store excess food and food bowls, after your animals have had a chance to eat, in a sturdy shed Adobe PDF, garage, or bear-resistant container Adobe PDF.
        • Do not chain or otherwise restrict a dog’s movements so that it cannot get away from its food, as this is more likely to cause an aggressive encounter if a bear approaches the dog’s food.
        • Free-ranging cats are typically not prey for bears, however, they can be preyed upon by other wildlife such as coyotes and bobcats.  Do not leave food outside unattended for free-ranging cats or feral cat colonies, as bears and other wildlife are attracted to easily available food sources.  Feed your free-ranging cat in your presence and remove any excess food the cat does not eat.
      • Bees
        • The most effective way to secure apiaries is to install an electric fence.  A properly maintained electric fence is over 90% effective at keeping bears out.  See our video External Website and accompanying instructional sheet on how to use electric fencing Adobe PDF.
      • Livestock
        • For livestock in small pastures or yards External Website, secure them in a sturdy pen, yard, or pasture with electric fencing Adobe PDF
        • For livestock in large pastures, a guard animal such as a dog, donkey, or llama may prevent predation by coyotes and other predators. However, not all guard animals are equally suited for all situations and environments. Certain dog breeds may provide the best deterrent against livestock predation by bears. FWC recommends in-depth research before committing to a guard animal to protect your livestock.
        • Protect small livestock such as chickens and rabbits with electric fencing Adobe PDF around coops and hutches.
        • Store excess animal feed and feeding containers after animals have eaten in a sturdy shed Adobe PDF, garage, or bear-resistant container Adobe PDF.  Do not leave animal feed or containers out overnight.
    • Feed Birds and Other Wildlife Without Attracting Bears
      • Bird Feeders
        • Use shelled seed and avoid red millet, as birds will typically toss this type of seed to the ground where it can accumulate and attract bears.
        • Place trays under feeders to be picked up daily and cleaned.
        • Hang feeders appropriately by suspending 10 feet from the ground and 4 feet from any attachment points, or bring inside at night.
        • Use a commercially manufactured bear resistant bird feeding station External Website.
      • Wildlife Feeders
        • Wildlife feeders should not be permitted in Bear Wise communities. 
    • Protect Your Home and Garage
      • Keep outside doors closed and locked when not in use.
      • Round door knobs are harder for bears to manipulate and are preferable to flat or lever-style door handles.
      • Do not store food in screened enclosures. These are not secure from bears.
    • Trash Cans:  Keep trash secured until the morning of trash pick up. 
      • Use commercially manufactured bear-resistant trash cans Adobe PDF by contacting your local waste service provider to request one. If they will not supply them, verify they will service one and then contact your local home improvement store to special order a can.
      • Consider bear-resistant dumpsters rather than multiple individual cans in communities whenever possible. Dumpsters are easier to secure than individual containers and may represent a significant cost-savings to residents. 
      • Modify your trash can to make it more difficult for bears to access.  The modified can must be sturdy enough that it will not collapse when an adult black bear stands on it, and the lid must be rigid and unbending.
        • If you have contracted waste service, first verify that your provider is willing to service a modified can.  You must ask permission to modify a can provided by a waste provider.
        • Secure non bear-resistant trash cans until the morning of trash pick-up in a location inaccessible by bears.

          *NOTE: Keeping garbage secure is the #1 way to reduce bear activity in your community
    • Porches, Patios, and Decks
      • Do NOT leave outdoor grills unattended when in use and clean them thoroughly afterwards. If mobile, store grills securely in a sturdy shed or garage.
      • Never leave used plates, dishware, glasses, or silverware unattended outside. Never leave any food unattended outside.
      • Vehicles
        • Keep vehicles secure by locking doors and rolling up windows. 
        • Never leave anything scented inside of your vehicle — this includes non-food items that have a scent like lip balm, garbage, coolers, air fresheners, and even medicines such as antibiotic ointment.

    Ready to begin?  Organize community members and
    Start A Neighborhood BearWise Program.



FWC Facts:
There's a lot you can do to view wildlife without ever leaving your home. Bring birds, butterflies and wildlife to your backyard with a few simple steps.

Learn More at AskFWC