Living in Bear Country
For many people seeing a black bear is a thrilling, rewarding experience. The presence of bears is not necessarily a problem or a threat to your safety. But it is important to remember that bears are wild animals and deserve respect. If you are not careful, you could break the law and risk both your own safety and the bear's. Follow this advice closely to keep the bears wild and your property secure.
A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear
Problems arise when bears have access to food sources such as pet foods, garbage, barbecue grills, bird seed or even livestock feed. Bears are adaptable and learn very quickly to associate people with food. Even though black bears are normally too shy to risk contact with humans, their powerful need to find food can overwhelm this fear.
Bears can smell food from over a mile away. Bears will travel great distances to track down these tasty smells and often cross roadways and bridges to do so- which creates risk to not only themselves, but to motorists as well.
Bears are driven by their need to eat, so anything that is easily accessible and can be eaten is a potential bear attractant. Presently, garbage is by far the biggest bear attractant in Florida. The calories a bear can consume by picking through one garbage can often surpasses the forage they can find in an entire day. Check out our flier "In a Bear's Quest for Calories…" It compares common types of human foods with the amount of acorns a bear would have to find to get the same amount of calories.
It is important to keep the temptation of garbage away from bears, because the more "food-conditioned" (dependent on a food source) they become, the more likely they are to frequent residential areas and cause property damage to get these unnatural food sources.
Bears are very intelligent animals that can be attracted into residential and other human-occupied areas. Over time, they become "habituated," and gradually lose their fear of humans. These bears will usually return more frequently and tend to become bolder around people.
Once bears find an area that has food they will continue to forage in the area until the food source is removed. It takes some time (up to several weeks) even after preventative methods have been implemented before the persistent bear will understand that the food source is no longer available.
Preventing access to food is the most important thing you can do to keep bears wild and out of your neighborhood.
The more a bear becomes dependent on unnatural foods, the less likely its chances of survival. Once bears lose their fear of people, there is often little hope to make the bear wild again. These habituated and food conditioned bears are often killed, either by vehicle collisions, illegal shooting, or as a result of bear management actions to keep the community safe.
People ask why problem bears can't simply be relocated to a "wilderness area where they won't bother anyone." Unfortunately, areas that are large and remote enough to move bears where they won't encounter people are rare in Florida. Relocated bears typically leave the new area, either to return to their original home or to leave an area already occupied by other bears. Some bears will wander through unfamiliar areas and cross busy roads, creating a danger to the bear and to motorists.
Bears that do remain in the relocation area often exhibit the same problem behavior, which just shifts the problem to a new community. As a result, relocation is not an effective solution to bear conflicts.
Wildlife biologists can provide free technical advice to residents who live in bear country to help them take actions that will discourage the bears from becoming a problem in the first place. The FWC is committed to ensuring the long-term wellbeing of the black bear while addressing property damage and safety concerns of residents and visitors to our state.
It is easy to live in harmony with bears and save their lives by simply securing the temptation of trash and other attractants. There are several ways to do this: get volunteers to build a caddy (or shed) to protect your garbage cans; secure your trash within a bear-resistant container; put up an electric fence around livestock or beeyards; and any of these other successful options.
If a Bear Comes into Your Yard
See our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to get an idea of how to handle a bear in your yard or in the wild.
To keep bears away, make sure you follow this advice:
- Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container (like a bear-resistant container or caddy).
- Put household garbage out on morning of pickup rather than the night before.
- Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
- Protect gardens, apiaries, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
- 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.
- Clean grills and store them in a locked, secure place.
- Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.
- Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground - bears love fruit!
You can also purchase or build your own bear or wildlife resistant garbage containers or caddy.
Making these changes around your home and encouraging your neighbors to do the same will discourage bears from associating your community with an easy food source. Remember - if your neighbors don't become bear smart, too, the bear can tear up their yard…before coming for yours.
It is illegal to intentionally place food or garbage out that attracts bears and causes conflicts. Anything that attracts dogs, cats or raccoons will attract bears, too!
If you see or suspect that someone is feeding or attracting bears, please call us at our Wildlife Alert Hotline - 888-404-3922 - or contact us online.