Florida is home to only one kind of bear, the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus). The only species of bear found east of the Mississippi River is the American black bear.
FWC estimates there to be approximately 4,050 bears statewide. Bears roam forests and swamps from Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle to Ocala National Forest in the state’s midsection to Big Cypress National Preserve in Southwest Florida. Bears currently occupy 49 percent of their historic range in seven bear subpopulations. While many subpopulations appear to be doing well, others are clearly still recovering.
If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.
Do NOT feed or intentionally attract bears. If a bear eats something on your property, take note of what it is and secure it once the bear leaves.
NEVER approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
If you are in your yard,
- Make sure that you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.
- Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or secure area.
- Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
- Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC.
Absolutely! Bears can run up to 35 miles per hour and climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds! Do NOT run or climb a tree when you encounter a bear.
- Don't run. Running triggers a chase instinct in many animals, including bears. You can't outrun a bear.
- Don't climb a tree. Bears are excellent tree climbers. Mother black bears often send their cubs up a tree when they sense danger. You don't want to end up in a tree with a couple of cubs above you and a mother bear below you! If a bear chases you, you'll just end up fending off a bear in a tree rather than on the ground.
Don't 'play dead' or turn your back on the bear. Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route. Stop and hold your ground if your movement away seems to irritate instead of calm the bear.
If a bear feels threatened, they may clack their teeth together , moan, blow, huff, or paw the ground. The bear is showing you that it is as uncomfortable with the situation as you are. These are not indications of aggressive intent or an imminent attack. Truly predatory or aggressive black bears are eerily silent.
If the bear stands up, this is NOT an aggressive behavior. The bear is only trying to see you better to figure out what you are and assess whether or not you are a threat.
Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route.
If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you, they are trying to scare you off. If you stand your ground, the bear will likely stop and move away.
No matter what happens, do not run away. Continue slowly backing away, talking and holding up your arms. The bear may charge or vocalize several times until he is comfortable turning his back on you and leaving.
While there have been no predatory bear attacks on people in Florida, people have been bitten and scratched by bears defending themselves, cubs, or food sources. If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively. People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks, or even their bare hands!
Bears are wild animals and must be respected. Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm humans. Do not take unnecessary risks!
Living with Bears . Here, we provide a wealth of information on how to protect your property, family, yourself, and the bears.
In 1974, the Florida black bear was listed as a State Threatened Species throughout most of Florida. In September 2010, FWC adopted a new conservation model to evaluate whether fish and wildlife species listed as State Threatened or Species of Special Concern are at high risk of extinction. Following this new procedure, a Biological Status Review (BSR) team evaluated the best available data on the Florida black bear and determined the bear did not meet criteria to be listed as State Threatened. That report was sent to five independent peer reviewers, who agreed with the findings. The final BSR recommendation was to remove the bear from the State Threatened Species list, and the Commission approved the recommendation in June 2011. The bear was removed from the State Threatened Species list in August 2012.
Bears are protected by the Bear Conservation Rule , which states it is illegal "take, possess, injure, shoot, collect, or sell black bears or their parts or to attempt to engage in such conduct except as authorized by Commission rule or by permit from the Commission." The only applicable defense to illegally take or attempt take of a bear is the Common Law Defense of Necessity. The defense is limited to the following circumstances:
- the defendant reasonably believed that his or her action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself or others;
- the defendant did not intentionally or recklessly place himself or herself in a situation in which it would be probable that he or she would be forced to choose the criminal conduct;
- there existed no other adequate means to avoid the threatened harm except the criminal conduct;
- the harm sought to be avoided was more egregious than the criminal conduct perpetrated to avoid it; and
- the defendant ceased the criminal conduct as soon as the necessity or apparent necessity for it ended.
The most serious threats to bears are habitat loss and fragmentation, and human-bear conflicts including bears killed by vehicles on roadways.