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BearWise Recognition Program Guidelines

The BearWise Recognition is a national program of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) but is administered by each of the member states’ wildlife organizations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) administers the BearWise Recognition Program in Florida. Each state must follow the standards set by AFWA but may choose to have additional requirements that are state-specific.

Every community is unique, as such, the FWC will work with each community to determine the best way to implement the BearWise Recognition requirements below. A community seeking BearWise Recognition must be able to demonstrate to the FWC that they are following the 6 BearWise Basics:

1. Never feed or approach bears

Intentionally feeding bears or allowing them to find anything that smells or tastes like food teaches bears to approach homes and people looking for more. Bears will defend themselves if a person gets too close, so don’t risk your safety and theirs!

Florida Specific: It is illegal to feed bears, either intentionally or unintentionally in Florida (F.A.C. 68A-4.001)].

2. Secure food, garbage, and recycling

Food and food odors attract bears, so don’t reward them with easily available food, liquids or garbage.

3. Remove bird feeders when bears are active

Birdseed and grains have lots of calories, so they’re very attractive to bears. Removing feeders is the best way to avoid creating conflicts with bears.

Florida Specific: Bird feeders that are secured or placed in a manner that does not allow a bear to access the contents of the feeder meet the same requirement as if they were removed.

4. Never leave pet food outdoors

Feed pets indoors when possible. If you must feed pets outside, feed in single portions and remove food and bowls after feeding. Store pet food where bears can’t see or smell it.

5. Clean and store grills

Clean grills after each use and make sure that all grease, fat and food particles are removed. Store clean grills and smokers in a secure area that keeps bears out.

6. Alert neighbors to bear activity

See bears in the area or evidence of bear activity? Tell your neighbors and share info on how to avoid bear conflicts. Bears have adapted to living near people; now it’s up to us to adapt to living near bears.


In addition to demonstrating the 6 BearWise Basics above, recognition in Florida also requires the community to:

A. Implement compliance measures to ensure food sources and other attractants are inaccessible to bears.

The community must have a bylaw, ordinance, or other mechanism in place that allows them to require people to keep bear attractants secure, and if someone is not following those rules, some level of penalty can be applied to encourage compliance.

B. Understand appropriate responses to bear interactions.

Community members should know how to behave when they encounter a bear, both at a distance as well as at close range.

C. Know when and how to report bear activity.

Community members should know when to call the FWC about bear activity.

How To Get Recognized

  • Spreading Awareness
    • Know what to do if you see a bear and educate your neighbors! Contact the FWC for brochures and other literature you can distribute in your community.
  • Implement a Bear Alert system
    • Appoint a BearWise 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 at the community entrance to inform guests of bear presence and BearWise policies in your area. Seasonally changing messages can make signs more dynamic and increase awareness.
  • 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 have to be reported to the FWC. If the bear is accessing your trashcan, grill, or bird feeder, contact the FWC to speak with a biologist during business hours for advice on how to prevent future interactions or follow the tips outlined for being BearWise.
    • To report illegal activity, including the feeding or harming of bears, contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922to speak with FWC law enforcement. Report life threatening emergencies to 9-1-1.

Ready to apply to be a BearWise Recognized community, business or school?