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What is the Bear Management Plan?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) developed the Bear Management Plan to provide a statewide framework for conserving Florida black bears and involving local stakeholders in helping FWC make regional bear management decisions.

What is the population of the Florida black bear?

Cub on tree trunk

After dwindling to as few as 300 bears in the 1970s, the Florida black bear population has rebounded to more than 3,000 bears at the time the Plan was approved in 2012.  Recent research studies estimate the statewide bear population to be approximately 4,050 bears in 2015. 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.

What is the status of the Florida black bear?

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.

What action has been taken on the Bear Management Plan?

Bear cub in den

The draft Bear Management Plan was open for public comment from Nov. 10, 2011 to Jan. 10, 2012. The draft plan and a summary of public comments were brought to the Commission for its consideration on Feb. 9, 2012. Based on public comments and Commission direction, the revised plan was opened for public comment from April 13 to June 1, 2012. Based on public comments, the plan was further revised and the plan tracking those revisions was posted on the FWC website for public review on June 11, 2012.  The revised plan and a summary of comments received was approved by the Commissioners on June 27, 2012.

What is the goal of the Bear Management Plan?

The goal of the plan is to maintain sustainable black bear populations in suitable habitats throughout Florida for the benefit of the species and people. The plan includes management tasks to ensure the Florida black bear population will be maintained and never again be at a high risk of extinction.

Why was the plan created?

The plan sets a strategy in place to address challenges regarding bear management. As stewards of wildlife in Florida, the FWC must anticipate the needs of bears and balance them with the needs of people.

What are the objectives of the plan?

  • Manage for a sustainable bear population statewide.
  • Conserve enough suitable habitat to support bear populations where they currently exist, and promote connectivity between those populations.
  • Increase public understanding of bears, support for bear conservation and a willingness to coexist with bears.
  • Reduce human-bear conflicts.

Who wrote the plan?

The Bear Management Plan was written by a team of FWC staff. Originally formed in May 2007, the team has consulted with representatives from public and private organizations to create the plan.

How many public comments were received on the Bear Management Plan?

Human hand holding a donut and offering it to a black bear

FWC collected about 580 comments on the plan via mail, email, online, stakeholder group meetings and from four public workshops.  A public workshop was held in Bristol on Nov. 22, Naples on Nov. 29, Deland on Dec. 6, and Gainesville on Dec. 13, 2011.  FWC also received more than 5,000 form letters via email about the plan.

What changes were made in the revised plan based on public comments?

Staff used a majority of the 580 comments FWC received to revise the plan.  Many comments helped staff improve the plan by clarifying and expanding on topics needing more explanation and discussion.  Other comments guided staff to revisit topics from a different viewpoint.

What are some examples of changes made to the plan based on public comments?

Concerns about the rule that prohibits feeding bears (68A-4.001(3) F.A.C.) led staff to add an Action Item to review that rule to increase its effectiveness. Staff also acted on a request to consider future development projections when addressing the habitat needs of bears.  Staff used projected bear habitat loss in Florida for the year 2020 to better reflect predicted habitat conditions at the end of the 10-year time frame of the plan.  In addition, staff created an Action Item to further describe bear behaviors and associated risks to human safety that may be associated with them.

What are the major threats to Florida’s black bear population?

The most serious threats to bears are habitat loss and fragmentation, and human-related mortalities such as bears being killed illegally or hit and killed by vehicles on highways.

How does the Bear Management Plan address threats to the Florida black bear population?

Bear at hair snare research site

Seven bear management units (BMUs) would be created to better align the aims and actions of management with the unique characteristics in each bear subpopulation range. The plan recommends forming “black bear assistance groups,” composed of local stakeholders within each BMU, to work with FWC to help manage bears. Each unit contains a separate bear population that varies in size -- from about 1,100 bears in the Central BMU, which includes Ocala National Forest, to about 30 bears in the Big Bend BMU, which includes Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

What does the rule in the Bear Management Plan do?

The rule in the Bear Management Plan makes it unlawful to injure or kill bears. The rule also states FWC will continue to engage with landowners and regulating agencies to guide future land use to be compatible with the objectives of the Bear Management Plan.

Under the plan, will the hunting of bears be allowed?

The plan does not propose a bear hunt. The plan acknowledges bear hunting is a complex issue and needs to incorporate a wider array of stakeholder involvement if hunting is to be considered as part of Florida’s bear management program. At the February 2015 Commission meeting, staff was directed to bring a conceptual framework of a Florida black bear hunt to the Commissioners at the April 2015 Commission meeting. In June 2015, the FWC Commissioners approved a limited bear hunt that occurred in October 2015. In June 2016, the FWC Commissioners voted to postpone a 2016 bear hunt and may revisit the topic in 2017.

For more information, see FAQs: Florida black bears and hunting

Does the plan address individual responsibility?

The plan addresses the need for continuing education so people can understand what steps they should take to reduce human-bear conflicts. People who know that bears are attracted to garbage, pet food, and birdseed and take action to prevent bear access to those food sources will be critical to the success of bear conservation efforts.

What is the desired outcome for bears in Florida as a result of the plan? 

Implementation of the plan should increase the chances that healthy, self-sustaining, and genetically diverse bear populations will thrive in Florida and human-bear conflicts will be minimized.

When did the Bear Management Plan go into effect?

The final plan and associated rule changes went into effect in August 2012.