The local bear population is on the rise, according to Dave Telesco, Bear Management Program Coordinator for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Telesco came before the county commission last week to give them an overview of the local bear population.
Although sightings are up across the county, he said, the largest population is in the Midway area.
“We have a lot of bears now, although that has not always been the case,” Telesco said.
In 1950 there were only 500 bears in the state. In 1974 they were listed as “threatened” and bear hunting was closed in 1994. Bears have now been removed from the state threatened list.
Telesco said the last estimate, which was 12 years ago, said there were 700 bears in the Apalachicola forest, which borders Gadsden County.
There are several areas scattered throughout the state with bear populations as well, he said, and a new review of the bear population is planned in the next couple of years. Estimates range between 2,500 and 3,000 statewide.
Telesco said saving the bears has been a success, but with that success there are more human-bear contacts.
Calls concerning bears to FWC have increased, he explained, especially when the bears learn they can raid a garbage can for food.
He said there were only a few areas that have opted for bear proof garbage collection and Midway and Gadsden County were among those.
Places that have those types of containers have seen dramatic drops in bear contact.
Those containers offered through collection vendors are $6 a month more than traditional containers.
In addition, Telesco made several suggestions as to ways people can help keep bears away from their property, which include:
• Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container (like a bear-resistant container or caddy).
• Put household garbage out on the morning of pickup, rather than the night before.
• Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
• Encourage your homeowners association or local government to institute ordinances on keeping foods that attract wildlife secure.
• Feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding.
• Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.
Telesco was asked if there were any plans to reopen bear hunting season and he said that decision would be made when the next population review takes place.
As a note of interest, the FWC website has a lot of information about the subject at http://myfwc. com/conservation/you-conserve/wildlife/black-bears/.