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Florida Black Bear Territory a Land of Many Uses

Posted on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 at 12:04 pm

From the Land Nobody Wanted to the Land of Many Uses On November 24, 1908, when President Teddy Roosevelt declared the Ocala area a National Forest in 1908, many people referred to it as the land nobody wanted.”

The land in this area was indeed a harsh, unforgiving place for humans to live. Roosevelt designated 202,000 acres of scrub as the Ocala National Forest, creating the first National For-est east of the Mississippi River, and the second National Forest within the continental United States.

Today, people enjoy the “many uses” of this lush area, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, camping, and touring historical areas. The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway shows new generations the route into the heart of wild Florida.

Florida Black Bear

Learn About Black Bears on Sat., October 19, 2019 at Cadwell Park — 11:00 a.m. to  4:00 p.m.

Mike Orlando, Assistant Coordinator of the FWC’s Black Bear Management Program, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Mike will share information regarding Florida black bear biology and behavior, and the science and techniques used to discover the secrets of a bear’s life. Learn about interactions and contact between bears and people in Florida – where, how and why they occur and how to ensure these interactions will be positive and safe experiences. Mike has been a partner of the festival for an extended period of time offering information regarding safely coexisting with the Florida black bear in your neighborhood and while recreating in the forest. Meet Mike and his team at the FWC exhibit on festival grounds.

Lisa Ostberg, Defenders of Wildlife Florida Coexistence Coordinator and FWC black bear response unit

Lisa will share exciting information about the current state of the panther population and Defenders’ efforts to foster the peaceful coexistence of panthers, livestock, pets and people in the ever-changing landscape of Florida. With only an estimated 120 -230 remaining in the wild, Florida panthers are one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. Over the last 30+ years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked closely with FWC, as well as other Federal agencies and private partners to make significant progress toward Florida panther recovery. However, the growth of the panther population in recent years has come with challenges: due to the resulting geographic expansion of the population. The number of panther deaths on roadways has increased significantly and we’ve seen as a rise in loss of hobby livestock and pets as well, as panthers adapt their feeding habits to living on suburban fringes. Meet Lisa at the Defenders of Wildlife Tent on festival grounds.

Laurie Peterson, Program Assistant at Trout Lake Nature Center

Laurie enjoys providing information about Trout Lake Nature Center with a mission to educate and inform people of all ages about not only our environment, but on how to protect and preserve the lands, waters and their inhabitants. As a regional educational resource, the preserve holds numerous demonstrations, talks, events and educational opportunities that will interest all ages. Trout Lake’s commitment to work hand and hand with the Lake County school system allows children to gain a unique perspective of our area’s wildlife and lands. Laurie will be at the festival with fun and educational activities including natural artifacts, a scat and animal tracks identification display and a butterfly craft. For even more of an experience, she will be bringing a gopher tortoise and a yellow rat snake to see up close.

Bear With Us! Co-Existing with Bears in Your Back Yard

If you join just about any local word-of-mouth Face-book group in Lake County, you will eventually see a post about a recent bear sight-ing. Black bears are Florida’s only bear species, and they used to roam the state freely without much human interac-tion. Today, as we continue to build into their habitat, bear and human encounters are becoming more frequent. The first documented inci-dent of a black bear injuring a person happened in 2006. (1) Since then, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conserva-tion Commission (FWC) has recorded “13 incidents where people in Florida needed to seek medical attention for injuries caused by black bears.”

It’s not that bears are be-coming aggressive–they’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing what bears do best: foraging for food. Bears are “opportunis-tic foragers” and must eat up to 20,000 calories a day in the fall in order to bulk up for winter. (1) They roam the countryside looking for natu-ral treats, like saw palmetto and tupelo, nuts (especially acorns), and insects. As our neighborhoods encroach within their territories, they’ve found some new favorite munchies that humans are less than thrilled about: gar-bage and feed for pets, birds or livestock. While bear-hu-man conflicts are rare, bears creating a mess in neighbor-hoods are becoming increas-ingly more common.

For the past two years, Lake County has received funding from the FWC’s affili-ation with the “BearWise” program. Bear-Wise was developed by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies as a regional effort across 15-member states. Fund-ing provides the means for communities certified by the FWC as “BearWise communities” to purchase bear-resistant trash cans and to help implement other compliance measures.

Unfortunately, Lake County was not one of the recipients from the pro-gram for this year, and, as a result, the Lake County Solid Waste Department has a long waiting list of individuals looking to purchase the reduced-price bear-resistant cans.

That is no excuse, however, for a homeowner not to take the initiative and do their best to prevent bear encounters. Leaving one’s filled trash can outside in the open is perhaps the main reason bears return to communities. While some residents feel frustrated with the “bear problem,” the burden falls on humans to take precautionary measures. Regardless of the cost (monetary or time and effort), it’s a homeowner’s legal responsibility to do so.

Bear-resistant trash cans can be found online starting around $50 and the price can climb to over $1000, depending on the size and material. There are a multitude of tu-torials on how to make your current garbage can bear-resistant with easy-to-find hardware or on how to build your own garbage can enclo-sure. Any of these measures are cheaper and easier to deal with than cleaning up a bear-sized mess or paying for the possible medical bills from a bear injury or a fine that can be issued to a homeowner for bear feeding. Yes, a homeowner could be considered a bear feeder if they’re aware of an issue but ignore it and allow it to contin-ue without taking precaution-ary measures. (2) If a home-owner is convicted, it can be considered a third-degree felony and comes with a fine of up to $5000 and potential jail time.

More Information About Bears  Black bears are very curi-ous, intelligent creatures. They adapt to their surround-ings and circumstances, learning quickly by trial and error. They explore and learn about objects in their envi-ronment by using their fore-paws to manipulate them or by chewing on them. Bears learn easily from other bears, cubs watch their mother and do as she does.

We can identify the mood of a bear by its actions. Body language really does speak volumes!

CURIOUS: A black bear standing on its hind legs is often just curious, trying to see or hear better.

NERVOUS: A nervous black bear my salivate excessively.

FRIGHTENED: A scared black bear will either run off or act defensively with actions like swatting at the ground or exhaling explosively. If you see a bear, observe it from a distance. Keep any potential food sources secure. If you experience a human-bear conflict, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Com-mission can be contacted via the FWC regional office nearest you:

North Central Lake City (386) 758-0525

Northeast Ocala (352) 732-1225

If you suspect illegal activ-ity, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).