Be ‘bear aware’ in Florida
Love is in the air for Florida black bears.
Breeding season for bears runs from June to July, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding homeowners that bears are moving around, foraging for food and looking for mates.
According to FWC bear management program coordinator Dave Telesco, the agency is seeing an increase in calls about bears in neighborhoods around the state. The animals are lured into neighborhoods to feast on unsecured trash.
His best advice: Do not feed the bears.
It is also illegal to feed bears in Florida.
“Problems arise when bears have access to people-related food sources such as pet foods, garbage, barbecue grills, birdseed or livestock feed,” Telesco said. “Bears learn very quickly to associate people with food, and this puts the animals at increased risk of illegal kills or crossing highways and getting hit by vehicles.”
Black bears normally are too shy to risk contact with humans, but their strong food drive can overwhelm these instincts. Residents can help these bears “move on,” so they don’t cause a conflict.
“If people remove the attractants, the bears will stay where we want them to stay – in wooded areas – and not enter urban and suburban neighborhoods,” Telesco said.
Properly storing and securing garbage is a proven method of discouraging bears. Barbecue grills should be stored in a secure place, such as a garage or a sturdy shed when they are not in use (typically evenings). Keep garbage cans secure and only place them outside on the morning of pickup, rather than the night before. People can encourage their neighbors, community or local government to use bear-resistant trash containers or dumpsters. To find out where to get them, go to MyFWC.com/Bears and select “Brochures & Other Materials.”
“Another way people can help is to feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding,” Telesco said.
“Relocating bears is not always the best option,” Telesco explained. “Most bears do not stay where we put them, and more than half of the bears we move just end up causing conflicts again in a new location.”
“If you see a black bear, remain calm. Don’t run. Walk calmly toward a building or vehicle and get inside,” Telesco said. “If you have children or pets, bring them inside. Once you are in a secure location, encourage the bear to leave by banging pots and pans, blowing a car or air horn or whistle. The more stressful a bear’s encounter with you, the less likely it is to come back.”
If a bear is in a tree, leave it alone. Remove people and dogs from the area. The bear usually will come down and leave when it feels safe, which is typically after dark.
If the bear is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock or is causing property damage, report it to the FWC at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Residents can find out more about living with black bears at MyFWC.com/Bear.
Frequently asked questions about bears
Q. How many bears are there in Florida?
A. The best scientifically valid population estimates total 2,500 to 3,000 bears statewide. Bears currently live in eight relatively isolated areas. While some populations appear to be doing well, others are still recovering.
Q. What do I do if I see a bear?
A. If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice. Do NOT feed or intentionally attract bears. If a bear eats something on your property, take note of what it is and secure it once the bear leaves. NEVER approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back away slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
- If you are in your yard,
- Make sure you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.
- Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or a secure area.
- Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
- Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline, 888-404-FWCC (3922) (See MyFWC.com/Contact). Cell phone users can call *FWC or #FWC.
Q. Are black bears fast runners or good climbers?
A. Absolutely! Bears can run up to 35 mph and climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds! Do NOT run or climb a tree when you encounter a bear.
- Don't run. Running triggers a chase instinct in many animals, including bears. You can’t outrun a bear.
- Don't climb a tree. Bears are excellent tree-climbers. Mother black bears often send their cubs up a tree when they sense danger. You don’t want to end up in a tree with a couple of cubs above you and a mother bear below you! If a bear chases you, you'll just end up fending off a bear in a tree rather than on the ground.
- Don’t play dead or turn your back on the bear. Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route. Stop and hold your ground if your movement away seems to irritate instead of calm the bear.
If bears feel threatened, they may clack their teeth together, moan, blow, huff or paw the ground. The bear is showing you that it is as uncomfortable with the situation as you are. These are not indications of aggressive intent or an imminent attack. Truly predatory or aggressive black bears are eerily silent.
Q. What do I do if the bear stands up on its hind legs?
A. If the bear stands up, this is NOT an aggressive behavior. The bear is only trying to see you better to figure out what you are and assess whether or not you are a threat. Back away slowly, making sure the bear has a clear escape route.
Q. What do I do if a bear comes toward me or attacks?
A. If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you but stops before reaching you and returns to where it started, it is trying to scare you off. If you stand your ground, the bear will likely stop and move away. No matter what happens, do not run away. Continue slowly backing away, talking and holding up your arms. The bear may charge or vocalize several times until it is comfortable turning its back on you and leaving.
While there have been no predatory bear attacks on people in Florida, more than a dozen people have been bitten and scratched by bears defending themselves, cubs or food sources.
If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively. People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks or even their bare hands. Bears are wild animals and must be respected. Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm humans. Do not take unnecessary risks.