The Florida black bear population actually consists of about eight isolated subpopulations: six core and two remnant subpopulations. These subpopulations have been isolated due to habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human encroachment onto their habitat. Adult males may range over 120 square miles in search of food and a mate. In the fall, bears require approximately 20,000 calories PER DAY as they prepare for denning in the winter.
Squeezed in by major roadways and development, it is no surprise that human-bear interactions have increased in recent years. The human population in Florida is at an all-time high of approximately 20 million and steadily rising. Forests and woods make way for strip malls and residential subdivisions. Acorn-producing oak trees in the remaining forests are felled to provide timber and to make way for cattle grazing. That’s right, this is happening in our state and national forests. Acorns are a high-calorie food source on which many wildlife species depend, including our Florida black bears.
The primary food source of the Florida black bear, the saw palmetto berry, has been taken from them as well. Truckloads of berries have been harvested on both private and state lands for years to provide for the herbal medicine industry. Forestry officials issued permits for $10 a day of unlimited berry picking between July and November. This practice was temporarily ceased in July of 2015 when the FWC decided to have another bear hunt.
Hunting has not been proven to help the situation of human-bear interactions. In fact, it may actually make the problem worse in some situations where orphaned cubs and juveniles wander in search of easily obtainable food in the form of garbage left out by humans. They haven’t been given enough time to learn from their mothers how to forage for food in the woods.
So, what is the solution?
It is really simple. If a bear cannot access food from human trash, chances are he will stay out of your neighborhood. Bear-resistant trash cans can decrease human-bear conflict by as much as 95% as a study in a Volusia County neighborhood has shown. Such bear-resistant trash cans are successfully being used in many communities throughout the states as well as in Canada. Even with bear-resistant containers, it is good practice and common sense to not put trash out the night before if you live in bear country.
Other bear attractants include pet food, bird seed, and dirty barbecue grills left outdoors or in patios, lanais, and even garages. Keeping barbecue grills cleaned after use and taking these other attractants indoors will keep bears out of your yard. Together with restoring and preserving the bear’s natural habitat and food sources, these measures will help ensure that bears stay in their forest homes.