A plan for long-term conservation of the Florida black bear, whose population is estimated at more than 3,000 today, compared with as few as 300 in the 1970s, was approved today by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
“The Florida bear population is thriving. That is the success story, but we still have a lot of education to do,” FWC Commission Chairman Kathy Barco said. “Everyone loves bears, but not everyone wants them in their backyard. When people call to say, ‘Relocate this bear,’ we need to help that neighborhood learn the ways to coexist with the bear – take care of your garbage, dog food and bird feeders.”
The Florida Black Bear Management Plan, available online at MyFWC.com/Bear, encourages public input into bear management decisions at the local level. When implemented, the plan will help the FWC find solutions that best fit the challenges facing both people and bears in different parts of the state. Bear populations in some areas are thriving, while populations in other places still are recovering.
“If we all work together to promote these protections, we can expand upon this great day today,” said FWC Commissioner Ron Bergeron.
Challenges addressed by the Black Bear Management Plan include:
- Maintaining wildlife habitats and corridors on public and private lands that accommodate bears’ large home ranges of up to 60,000 acres and allow bears to roam safely.
- Reducing human-bear conflicts, through use of bear-proof cans for garbage and proper storage of birdseed and pet food, which can be irresistibly mouthwatering treats for bears.
- Educating Floridians and visitors about black bear behavior and conservation, and how to remain safe if a bear comes into your yard or if you encounter a bear. To find out more, go to MyFWC.com/Bear.
Seven bear management units (BMUs) will be created, with each unit containing a geographically distinct bear subpopulation and a local advisory group of stakeholders interested in issues such as creating “Bear Smart” communities.
The state’s largest land mammal is a subspecies of the American black bear and had been listed as a state-threatened species since 1974. Successful conservation of the Florida black bear was confirmed by the FWC’s 2011 Biological Status Review, which reported the bear to be no longer at high risk of extinction.
While Commissioners today passed a rule to remove the black bear from the list of state-threatened species, they also adopted a separate new rule stating it is still illegal to injure or kill a bear in this state, or possess or sell bear parts.
The public and stakeholder groups participated extensively in developing Florida’s bear management plan:
- A diversity of stakeholders provided input into the original draft bear management plan released on Nov. 10, 2011.
- More than 550 public comments were received on the draft plan and revised draft plan, with a majority of suggestions used by the FWC to improve the plan. Additionally, more than 5,400 email form letters were received from Floridians.
- Two rounds of public comment were made available: from Nov. 10, 2011, through Jan.10, 2012, on the draft plan, during which time four public workshops also were held, and from April 13 until June 1, 2012, on the revised draft plan.
The Florida black bear is among the 62 wildlife species that soon will join the list of 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 that plans be updated at specified intervals.
Those management plans give citizens an active role in Florida’s efforts to conserve its diverse wildlife for future generations.