Local Black Bears Love Garbage More Than Honey

October 1, 2010 by admin

On Sept. 16 before a small crowd in the Seaside Meeting Hall Theater, Alan Knothe, Wildlife Assistant Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), presented a program titled “Living With Bears.”   

 Knothe, who assists the public with wildlife problems,  said at the outset that, “… northwest Florida is the richest biological area in the whole country,” and it  produced 1,500 calls about bear problems in 2009. Most of these calls were about bears in the garbage.

    He then continued and provided this information:

  • There are presently between 2,500 and 3,000 black bears in Florida and about 700 of these are in the Eglin AFB and Apalachicola National Forest areas.
  • The population is on the rise. There are eight sub-populations found in southwest, central, northeast and northwest wilderness areas of the state. These bears are a sub-species of the American black bear.
  • Their average size runs from about 350 pounds for the males to 150 pounds for the females, but older males can be much larger as witnessed by a state record 624-pound animal.
  • Females normally give birth to a two cubs but, litters of as many as five cubs have been reported. Survival rates in the larger litters may be poor.   

    The males ordinarily establish a foraging area of about 60 square miles while the females stay in a smaller 15 square mile area. Within these areas the bear’s diets consists of about 80 percent plant matter (acorns, fruits, berries, even heart of palm);  about 15 percent from insects (bees, ants, wasps and beetles); and the remaining 5 percent may be meat - mostly from small or injured animals. This attests to the fact that bears are nor particularly good hunters.  

    Not only is the bear population increasing, but the number of people living adjacent to bear habitat is also on the rise; this is the problem that brings on the likelihood of confrontations, mostly around garbage cans and dumpsters.  

    Bears have a natural fear of people, but when food is scarce - or when the bear is possibly looking for a new forage area - their search may put them close to food smells in garbage cans where they find a rich source of nutrients. Once found, this source will bring a bear back time after time. Trapping and relocating the bears is really not a good solution  to the problem.  

    They have a good sense of direction and approximately 70 percent of relocated bears will come back to their original forage area given enough time. There are reports that trapped and relocated bears have traveled as far as 165 miles to get back home.  

    Many have tried using a “do-it-yourself” kit to make garbage cans secure but these may not work. The better solution, although more expensive, is to buy a manufactured garbage can that is guaranteed to be bear-proof.   

    Dumpsters  are a slightly different problem that can usually be fixed by one's domestic waste pickup service. Dumpsters  that have lightweight plastic lids can be refitted with steel lids with latches to keep bears out. Other dumpsters that have sliding access plates (doors) can be secured by using a locking device to secure the plates.  

    The frustrating part of this is that even if a homeowner is using secure containers, if someone doesn’t lock them up after depositing garbage, the bear will get to the food. Incidentally, bears are smart and they may figure out the schedule for garbage collection days, so putting the garbage in the garage may not solve the problem.  

    Another way to discourage a bear is to put up an electric fence. This method is sometimes used by beekeepers. These are effective but the application is limited by other needs of the local area. 

    If you have a face to face confrontation, Knothe says, “…do not run, play dead or make eye contact with the animal.” If the bear stands up, understand that his curiosity is at work and he is trying to hear, smell of see you better. Back away slowly and quietly. Bears don’t like loud noises so when you are a good distance away, make a loud noise! Portable marine air horns powered by small compressed gas bottles are good for this.  

    The last resort is to destroy a bear that is causing a problem. This solution is the sole prerogative of FWC. Killing a bear is a felony that can bring a fine and up to five years in jail.  

    In the event that locks or other methods don’t solve a bear problem, contact the FWC at (850) 265 3676 or visit MyFWC,com for help.

by Ben Grafton, DeFuniak Herald Beach Breeze

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