FWC shares black bear conservation success, solicits feedback on new bear management plan
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Media contact: Diane Hirth, 850-410-5291
After dwindling to as few as 300 bears in the 1970s, the Florida
black bear population has rebounded to an estimated 3,000 bears
today. Bears and their cubs roam forests and swamps from Eglin Air
Force Base in the Panhandle to Ocala National Forest in the state's
midsection and Big Cypress National Preserve in Southwest
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC),
which worked with its partners to increase the state's black bear
population, today released a new draft management plan for the bear
and is asking for public input. Both a summary of public feedback
and the draft plan will go before the Commission at its February
"The Florida black bear is truly a conservation success story.
Bear populations have clearly benefited from broad public support
and diligent conservation efforts across Florida, particularly in
those communities where black bears have become more common," said
FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley. "We welcome the public's
thoughts on how to best continue our bear conservation efforts in
the future, as both our human and bear populations expand."
The goal of the draft management plan is to "maintain
sustainable black bear populations in suitable habitats throughout
Florida for the benefit of the species and people." It includes
measurable objectives regarding bear populations, habitat, citizen
education and outreach, and human-bear conflicts.
The Florida black bear currently does not meet the criteria of
being at high risk of extinction, based on the FWC's Biological
Status Review on the species completed in early 2011. When a bear
management plan is approved, the bear will no longer be on the
state's list of threatened species. A similar process was followed
for the bald eagle, which is no longer listed as a state threatened
species but is carefully managed through specific conservation
measures established under an FWC management plan.
The FWC is seeking public input on the draft bear management
plan. The open process will include four public workshops: Bristol
(Nov. 22), Naples (Nov. 29), Deland (Dec. 6), and Gainesville (Dec.
13). Go to MyFWC.com/Bear
to access workshop details, read the plan and comment online.
The draft bear management plan includes:
- Establishment of seven bear management units (BMUs) to provide
localized bear management and public involvement appropriate to the
area, from about 1,000 bears in the Central BMU, which includes
Ocala National Forest, to about 20 bears in the Big Bend BMU, which
includes Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.
- A section on the history of bear hunting in Florida. A bear
hunt is not proposed in the plan. Currently, Florida black bears
may not be hunted, harmed or killed, and similar prohibitions would
continue under a rule proposed in the plan.
- Creation of "Bear Smart Communities" in areas of high bear
activity. Human-bear conflicts are on the rise in Florida. In 2010,
the FWC received more than 4,000 calls from citizens about bears.
In the past 10 years, more than half of those calls were related to
bears rummaging through garbage. A "Bear Smart Community" would
involve residents, local governments, businesses and schools in
changing people's behaviors to reduce human-bear conflicts.
"People's involvement in conserving bears is critical," Wiley
said. "For example, employees at the U.S. Air Force's Hurlburt
Field have an active bear education program for base residents and
recently acquired hundreds of bear-proof garbage cans. Those
efforts dramatically reduced the number of bears wandering into
Black bears are generally shy and nonaggressive toward humans.
But bears can smell food from more than a mile away and so are
tempted to leave forests and swamps to dine on garbage and pet food
that is left outdoors and unsecured.
The diet of Florida black bears is mostly vegetarian, with 15
percent insects, and 5 percent animal matter. The bear's menu
includes saw palmetto, acorns, ferns, blackberries, bees, alligator
eggs, armadillo and opossum. Male bears typically weigh between 250
and 400 pounds; females are smaller, weighing 125 to 250 pounds. At
birth, a bear cub is about the size of a can of soda and weighs
less than a pound.
Conservation of Florida wildlife habitats on both public and
privately owned lands helped ensure the rebounding bear population
had room to grow. However, expected future loss of large forests is
the major long-term challenge to maintaining black bears in a
growing state of nearly 19 million people. The adult male black
bear rambles over a 60,000-acre range; the female's range is 15,000
acres. The more immediate danger to a black bear is crossing the
road. Being hit by a car or truck is the major cause of known bear
deaths in the state, with 158 bears killed or euthanized after
being injured on highways in 2010.
The Florida black bear is among the 62 wildlife species that
soon will join the list of Florida species, like the bald eagle,
already under an FWC management plan. Florida's new threatened
species conservation model requires that management plans be
created for all species that have been state-listed and then
updated at specified intervals. Those management plans give
citizens an active role in Florida's efforts to conserve its
diverse wildlife for future generations.
Suggestions on revising the bear plan will be accepted online
through Jan. 10, 2012, at MyFWC.com/Bear, where more
information also is available on the Florida black bear.