Statewide Habitat Assessment (2018-ongoing)
Although Florida’s black bear population is growing both in abundance and range, historical losses caused by human land-use changes continue to limit and fragment bear habitat. A goal of the FWC’s Black Bear Management plan is to maintain sustainable populations in suitable habitats throughout Florida for the benefit of the species and people. To meet this goal, biologists are estimating the amount and distribution of bear habitat as well as studying its characteristics, including how much of bear habitat is currently occupied and identifying the most likely movement corridors between habitat patches.
This research is ongoing. The project has identified 17,646 mi2 of high-quality bear habitat across Florida using results from a single, statewide model. They compared areas of bear habitat to projected human development and sea level rise to predict areas most affected by those potential future threats to bear habitat.
Not all identified bear habitat is currently occupied by bears. When biologists compared the habitat map to the map of current bear range, they found that 39% of the habitat was in Frequent bear range, 24% was in Common bear range, 28% was in Occasional bear range, and 9% was in Rare bear range. Currently, 46% of bear habitat is protected by either easements or public ownership.
The next step is to investigate how connected the largest habitat patches are and where habitat linkages, or corridors, exist. Researchers can then study the characteristics of corridors to determine which barriers are most likely to inhibit bear movements along the corridors and to identify where future range expansion is most likely to occur.
Map of bear habitat identified by the Statewide Habitat Assessment.