Florida black bear…a conservation success story
Message from Kathy Barco
Monday, August 29, 2011
Media contact: Kathy Barco
This is my first column as Chairman of the Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). I am honored and, frankly,
humbled by the support of my fellow commissioners, our stakeholders
and the Floridians this Commission works with every day. I thought
it appropriate to start my conversation with you by sharing our
success story of the FWC's threatened species rule for Florida
In the early 1970s, Florida black bears dropped to their lowest
numbers on record; estimates were as few as 300 bears statewide.
Our predecessor agency, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish
Commission, stepped in and selected the Florida black bear as one
of the first listed threatened species in 1974, adding more
protection to bears and their habitat.
But adding bears to a list alone does not recover a species. The
FWC and its partners identify important wildlife habitats and work
with private landowners to keep those lands in conservation,
whether through easements and agreements through our Landowner
Assistance Program, or purchases through programs like Florida
Forever. Statewide educational efforts teach thousands of people
each year about bears and how to avoid conflicts. Formal education
programs like The Florida Black Bear Curriculum Guide bring bear
issues directly into the schools, and informal efforts occur
through FWC staff time spent engaging the public at festivals and
community events. The FWC passed a rule that made feeding bears
illegal, allowing us to focus on the core cause of human-bear
conflicts. All of those efforts have allowed us to bring the bear
back to about 3,000 animals today.
In fall 2010, the FWC led a team of experts to review all the
data available on Florida black bears to see if bears met the
criteria to be considered at high risk of extinction. The team
found that the bear no longer met those criteria, and five
additional external species experts reviewed the report and agreed
with the team's recommendation to remove it from the threatened
This June, I was proud to preside for the first time as Chairman
of the Commission when FWC staff presented their recommendations on
the bear and 60 other threatened species. As my colleague and
former Chairman Rodney Barreto said, it was "a time to celebrate
our success." We have more bears in Florida now than we have
had in the past seven decades, and the bear is well on its way to
being removed from the threatened species list.
Our work to manage Florida's black bear is a continuing process.
A team of FWC staff has been working diligently with stakeholder
groups to create a management plan for bears. We will be seeking
public feedback on the plan this fall, and a revised plan is
expected to be brought to the February 2012 Commission meeting. I
look forward to reviewing the plan.
The bear's success is an example of what our threatened species
rule is designed to do: identify species that need our attention,
act to conserve the species, and bring them back so that they will
never be at risk of extinction again.
The FWC is known for seeking input from all points of view, and
I hope my series of monthly columns provides the spark to begin or
continue conversations concerning events and issues facing Florida
conservationists. If you aren't doing it now, please consider
following us on Twitter (@MyFWC and @MyFWClife) and "liking" us on
Facebook at Facebook.com/MyFWC.