Concerned Florida residents, business owners, and municipalities across the state have already taken steps to become BearWise and protect both people and bears. Here are a few of the first to do so:
The Wingfield North subdivision was the site of an incident where a bear severely injured a resident in December 2013. The community responded by working with the FWC on actions to address human-bear conflicts. The homeowner’s association board took immediate steps to draft, implement and enforce a new set of HOA rules requiring all residents to secure garbage and other attractants from bears and other wildlife. As a result of the new covenants approved in 2014, bear activity dropped within two months. Due to its proximity to the Wekiva River Basin, bears still travel through the neighborhood but are no longer lingering in the area. Wingfield North has worked with the FWC to encourage other HOAs in the area to help them become BearWise.
“It’s easy enough for communities to adopt BearWise rules and for owners to follow them but for most people the cost of bear-resistant trash cans presents a potentially significant obstacle. Unsecured trash is one of the greatest bear attractants and it is important that it be addressed as part of any BearWise effort,” said Gary Kaleita, former Wingfield North HOA Board Chairman.“Owners and communities should consider bear-resistant trash cans as an investment in the safety of both the community and the local bear population. If they prevent even a single injury or death from a bear encounter gone wrong, they are well worth the cost.”
Hurlburt Air Field
After elevated bear activity in the mid-2000s, Hurlburt Field consulted with the FWC to address human-bear conflicts. Hurlburt Field purchased bear-resistant trash cans for all on-base housing units and converted all dumpsters to keep bears out. Additionally, incoming personnel and their families are provided with training on proper use of the trash cans and education about bears, what attracts them and what to do if they see a bear. Allowing bears to access garbage while living in base housing is a violation of housing rules and is strictly enforced. Hurlburt Field Security Forces receive regular trainings from the FWC on how to respond to human-bear conflicts, including scaring bears. As a result of these combined actions, human-bear conflicts on Hurlburt Field dropped by 70% in 2013 after just over one year of these efforts. Hurlburt Field incorporated all their BearWise efforts in the installation’s 2021 Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, which further reinforces continuity and confirms the facility will continue to keep people safe and bears wild.
“The Hurlburt Field community is fortunate to have undeveloped areas on base and be bordered by the Eglin Reservation,” said Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas M. Pulire, Commander of the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, U.S. Air Force. “This gives the base a great natural feel and provides frequent opportunities to see bears and other wildlife in their natural habitat. To ensure the safety of our people and the bears we must do everything possible to avoid creating food attractants that alter bears’ natural behavior. By implementing BearWise practices we have eliminated attractants and, as a result, our human-bear conflicts have dropped dramatically.”
Wingfield Reserve is a residential subdivision characterized by native canopy trees on relatively large residential lots. Given the dominance of large mature oaks and other native landscaping, the community provides ideal habitat for bears. Out of concern for the health and safety of residents and protection of properties, as well as a desire to live in harmony near a relatively high bear population, the HOA board incorporated BearWise components into their HOA covenants in 2016. These covenants included the purchase of bear-resistant trash cans for every residence, along with specific provisions for managing human waste; installing signs identifying the community as BearWise; and restricting the availability of other potential bear attractants, such as pet food and birdseed.
“In general, Wingfield Reserve residents have embraced the BearWise program, resulting in a reduction in human-bear conflicts even though bears are still frequently observed in the community,” said Dr. Jay Exum, former HOA board member. “As a result, our neighborhood serves as a compatible habitat buffer to conservation lands associated with the Wekiva River and residents are less likely to have interactions with bears that would jeopardize human safety or result in property damage.”
Stoneybrook of Estero is a community made up of more than 1,000 residences consisting of single-family homes, villas and condos on a championship golf course with fairways winding through lakes and conservation areas. After experiencing recent bear activity, the Stoneybrook of Estero Homeowner’s Association Board of Directors met with FWC staff to discuss ways they could avoid human-bear conflicts. In 2020, the board quickly took actions to ensure residents would become BearWise by enacting rules requiring trash containers be stored inside and not be put curbside until after 4 a.m. on the morning of pickup. The HOA helps residents live with bears without conflicts through monthly newsletters and informational displays.
“Living in Florida, we all are aware that we share the land with various types of wildlife and it is our responsibility to ensure that wildlife can exist without interference from humans, namely feeding them, bothering them and ruining their habitat,” said Bill Reynolds, Stoneybrook of Estero HOA President. “We do this by not planting fruit trees, cleaning up dropped fruit from existing trees, not using bird feeders and keeping our trash containers out of the bears’ reach. A BearWise program includes these steps and makes us better neighbors to our wildlife friends.”
Cypress Dunes has coined the term “Luxury Living Among Nature’s Simplicity.” Bordering cypress forest and wetland habitats, this community decided to take actions to minimize conflicts with their wildlife neighbors. After meeting with FWC staff about recent human-bear interactions, the homeowner association board decided to purchase commercially manufactured bear-resistant trash cans for every residence and required their proper use in 2016.
“Since Cypress Dunes is adjacent to Topsail Hill Preserve, all of our residents believe we have a responsibility to minimize ‘unfortunate bear encounters’ while still enjoying the occasional bear sighting,” said Mike Geihsler, member of the Cypress Dunes Board of Directors. “At the top of our list, we ensure that all residents understand the importance of securing our trash in a specified bear-resistant container. Protecting our wildlife and our residents are both very worthy goals.”