Bear Crossings Community: A Wildlife Friendly Design

Florida is currently home to 18.8 million people and continues to grow.  Residential development has occurred at an astonishing rate statewide to keep up with the approximately 330,000 people moving to Florida each year.  Popular modern development theories of clustered development, conservation development, and new urbanism are becoming increasingly popular and marketable, which reduce negative impacts on wildlife.  The Bear Management Program (BMP) of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) routinely reviews site plans for developments in occupied Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) range to reduce impacts to bears.  Most recommendations (or comments) for these site plans are produced by the BMP through a list of filters and actions known as the BMP Remedial Action List (RAL).

BMP created a report focusing on an example residential subdivision, Bear Crossings. The design of Bear Crossings has been prepared following traditional residential development focus with the RAL items included. This allows BMP to utilize the site plan as an example for developers of the RAL items in action and the benefits they convey.  Most developments following new urbanism, conservation development, and clustered development theories will likely already have many of the RAL items. Bear Crossings illustrates the community from a technical perspective, explaining why certain RAL items have been included and the reasoning for each.  Wildlife managers and the development community are the intended audience.  Bear Crossings has been reviewed by FWC’s Habitat Conservation Scientific Service and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Community Planning and Development Program.

Bear Crossings is a fictitious 267 acre residential subdivision located within the Northern range of the Florida black bear.  The design and layout of homes in Bear Crossings follows traditional development principles with 110 home sites placed along a residential street that connects to a larger collector road.  Homes and community facilities are protected both by placement of parcels and by strong policy and regulations to be entered into neighborhood ordinances and homeowners covenants.  A large portion of the developed area has been placed under conservation easement (approximately 79%) in an effort to protect the preexisting bear habitat located on the parcel. Conservation land set aside in large perpetual easements assures habitat fragmentation or “islands of habitat” within a sea of development are not created during the development process.  The benefits of building dense communities adjacent to conservation land have multiple benefits for homeowners, developers, and wildlife.

Homeowners buying land adjacent to the conservation easement can be confident their property is protected from the effects of future development in the area.  Homeowners are now stakeholders, not only of their home lot, but of a large, natural conservation space. Properties adjacent to these conservation areas generally have the benefit of higher resale value and are buffered from the negative effects of future development.

Developers find building in higher density allows for decreased construction and infrastructure costs.  Some of these decreased costs are lower road construction costs due to decreased paved surface areas, shorter utility lines, more compact development footprints, and decreased areas to provide storm water protection. Initial market values for homes are higher in areas adjacent to conservation areas and land placed under perpetual easement.

Wildlife is able to utilize conservation easement land the same way it would utilize most other conservation lands.  The biggest benefit to placement under easement is the easement will outline how the land should be managed perpetually.  In this case the Bear Crossings conservation lands will be managed for wildlife and the Florida black bear.

For the protection of the bears in the area, developers prohibit the construction company from clearing, blasting and burning forested habitat from December through March. This ensures bears’ safety during denning season. In addition clean construction sites with wildlife-resistant containers for disposal of food and other attractants is an enforced policy throughout the development process. The construction company must have frequent trash removal services by the local waste management agency.

 

Bear Crossing Community

Explore the map below and click on hot spots to see more information.

Bear Crossings Homes Trails Roads Community facility Wildlife Viewing Area Interior Signage sidewalks Forest Road easements Road easements Underpass Lake Ursus Cub Lake

Homes

Bears do not like to wander into open areas. Management activity throughout the community (including residential yards) will ensure that bears are not encouraged to migrate through homeowners’ yards or community facilities.  A buffer of thirty feet will surround each home.  The buffer zone will be kept free of high shrubs and trees.  Shrubs and plantings within the buffer will be kept no higher than 18”.  Trees should not be placed in this buffer zone.  Plantings within the buffer such as small beds and hedges (placed along external walls) are permissible.  Vegetable gardens and orchards are prohibited as they will attract bears into the area.  Ordinances prohibiting bird feeders, outdoor BBQs, specific plant species, and other attractants will be included in neighborhood ordinances.  In lieu of bird feeders, bird nesting boxes and use of the Wildlife Viewing Area are encouraged.  Vegetation extending from the forest and onto homeowner property will be managed in a staggered manner so as to maintain a maximum view shed of homeowners surrounding property and to discourage use of property by bears.  Management of the property in this manner will bring many secondary benefits such as increased fire, storm, and overall safety and increased opportunity for wildlife viewing through maintained view sheds.

Table 1: Number of dwelling units by street frontage

Street Frontage

Number of Dwelling Units

60 ft

67

80 ft

36

110 ft

7

Total Number of Dwelling Units

110

A buffer zone of 35 feet surrounds each home. This buffer zone should be kept free of high shrubs and trees; plantings within the buffer zone are restricted to 18 inches tall. Trees are prohibited from this buffer zone; however, small, planted beds are permissible. Tall hedges may only be placed against load bearing walls, not exceeding ¾ of its height. This establishes an unobscured line of sight, extending from the home and into surrounding properties. The elimination of tall trees and shrubbery create an open space, encouraging bears and other wildlife to feel unprotected, thus likely avoiding the space. Regulatory language outlines the maintenance of this buffer zone in each homeowner covenant, reflecting the ordinances of the community. Established to provide increased protection from storms, fire, and nuisance wildlife, the buffer zone benefits are stressed to residents during home purchases.

Vegetation such as vegetable gardens and orchards are prohibited in Bear Crossings. The avoidance of plantings listed in the homeowner’s covenant ensures no potential food sources could inadvertently be placed in residential yards. The prohibition of these attractants is likely to deter bears from the area.

Ordinances prohibiting bird feeders, outdoor BBQs, specific plant species, and other attractants will also be included in neighborhood ordinances. In lieu of bird feeders, bird nesting boxes and use of the Wildlife Viewing Area are encouraged. Vegetation extending from the forest and onto homeowner property will be managed in a staggered manner so as to maintain a maximum view shed of homeowners surrounding property and to discourage use of property by bears. Management of the property in this manner will bring many secondary benefits such as increased fire, storm, and overall safety and increased opportunity for wildlife viewing through maintained view sheds.

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Trails

Trails have been included in the Bear Crossings community to encourage community members to engage in “natural experiences” and maintain an active vibrant community.

Continued use of trails will result in higher levels of social capital amongst community members.  Increased property values and a higher market value for homes within the community may result from the growing societal green trend.  Trails will be built and maintained in a way so as to enhance the overall visual quality, safety and experience of the user.  Buffer zones have been established extending 25 feet from the center of trails.  Trees within the buffer zone will be trimmed to maintain a minimum five foot clearance underneath.  Bushes and scrub vegetation in the buffer will be trimmed to a height of three feet.  Maintenance of vegetation along trails will follow a perpetual goal of maintaining excellent lines of sight.

This creates trails where users are safe and aware of their surroundings at all times, reducing unwanted encounters with bears and other wildlife. Moreover, maintained lines of sight help prevent wildlife from being surprised by human trail users.

Bulletin boards are located at each trail head, enabling residents to communicate recent bear and wildlife sightings in addition to upcoming events in the neighborhood Signage and light fixtures exist throughout the pathways, directing residents around the trails and maximizing their safety. In addition, water fountains are placed at major trail intersections in an effort to increase the enjoyment of community members utilizing these trails. Signs at trail entrances and intersections are intended to inform users on proper reaction techniques to bear sightings.

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Roads

Road design in the Bear Crossings community attempts to create the feeling of slow, curvy country roads.  Road design limits entrances and exits and creates a looped style road system.  The speed limit is posted at 20 miles per hour, which increases safety for children and pedestrians and decreases potential animal road kill issues.  Vegetation on either side of all community roads are maintained at less than three inches, and extend 20 feet from the end of the pavement on either side.  Clearings on both sides of the road increase motorist visibility, resulting in lower potential accidents and incidental road kill.  These clearings increase in width along turns in roadways to increase motorist line of sight.  Speed bumps are located on long straight roads, encouraging slow speeds in an effort to decrease incidental road kill. 

Along Lake Ursus a one way road exists to decrease residential traffic resulting from its close proximity to recreational facilities, and increase protection of the nearby wildlife underpass.  Because of the location advantage to Lake Ursus and Cub Lake, homes along the one way road have increased market value. 

Roundabouts are located around the Community Facility, an area drawing a large volume of motorized and foot traffic. The roundabout decreases traffic volumes, providing increased safety to residents utilizing recreational facilities and decreases potential road kill incidents.  Limited parking for the Facility encourages community members to utilize trails and sidewalks to access the Facility, decreasing the number of cars on community roadways at any time.

Flashing lights and roadway signage have been placed on the collector road to inform motorists they are entering Bear Country and to drive carefully. A 500 foot easement has been placed on either side of this large road outside of Bear Crossings.  This easement has been placed to ensure residents are protected from noise pollution originating from the collector road, shield homes from views of the roadway, and accommodating wildlife passage and shelter along roads.

State officials maintain this easement in much the same manner as roadways within the Bear Crossings community- 30 foot buffers and clearings to maintain consistent lines of sight. Other speed reduction measures such as lowering posted speed limits and active speed impediments have been suggested to state and municipal officials.



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Community Facility

The Community Facility exists in the center of the development area.  The Facility features two detached, multiuse buildings. Both are 900 square feet, housing small bath and changing rooms, social gathering areas, a pool, and a large sundeck.  These elements are accessed via roads, adjacent trails, and sidewalks.  Numerous parking spaces (34) and handicap access points are provided at the Facility. The total collective footprint of the Facility is 8,581 square feet. A small Florida black bear exhibit is housed within the Facility which conveys the value and importance of the bear to community members.  This exhibit includes a phone with contact information about reporting bear sightings and nuisance issues, along with ideas for residents to further bear proof their homes, and retrofit kits for trash containers.

The property immediately surrounding the Community Facility is maintained similar to residential properties; the Facility’s yard area is relatively clear of vegetation and high trees to discourage bears from entering the property.  This includes the provision of a 35 foot residential buffer and mostly cleared lawns. 

The Community Facility has a commercial-sized, wildlife-resistant dumpster for disposal of large amounts of trash from community events and oversized waste.  The large dumpster helps prevent the accumulation of oversized waste on the sides of homes or in yards.  The dumpster is metal in construction and access doors are secured with latches and locking mechanisms.  The dumpster is emptied and cleaned regularly.  Homeowners’ association ordinances require lawn and facility cleanup of the community center at the end of each rented use.  Frequent cleanup and maintenance of the Facility offers increased longevity of the structure, lower maintenance costs, and prevention of bear migration towards the Facility in search food. 

The design of the Community Facility and its central location benefits residents in multiple ways.  The Facility itself provides a spot for social gatherings and interactions; increasing the social capital of the community while providing an outlet for residents to partake in active recreational activity (e.g. swimming and water sports). By providing a recreational outlet for residents to barbeque and swim, the center minimizes the likelihood of residents placing these banned facilities on their private property.  The central location of the Facility makes it accessible to all community members while creating a fortified space for a potentially large attractant source.



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Wildlife Viewing Area

A bald eagle nest was identified preconstruction.  A 4.5 acre conservation buffer has been placed around the nest to ensure nesting activities will not be disturbed during or after construction.  Land within the buffer will be maintained to encourage use by a wide variety of avian and terrestrial species.  These management activities will hopefully entice wildlife away from the Bear Crossings community and into an area where residents can view them from afar. 

Adjacent to the conservation easement is a small pavilion with benches and coin operated binoculars.  The Wildlife Viewing Area provides an avenue for recreational wildlife and bird watching while minimizing the need to place feeders on homeowners’ properties, thus partaking in actions which encourage wildlife migration onto residential yards.  Signage at the wildlife pavilion communicates the value of the bear and other wildlife to trail users.  All monies gathered from the operation of binoculars are directed to the community bear and wildlife fund.



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Interior Signage

Interior wildlife signage is posted throughout the community so residents and visitors are aware the neighborhood is in primary bear habitat and it is imperative they respect the homeowners’ ordinance. Signage exists every 1,500 feet along community roads and at each entrance to the community, communicating the existence of bears in the area and the occurrence of recent bear sightings. This signage reinforces the need for drivers and visitors to be aware while driving and interacting in the community. Examples of Bear Aware signage are below.

bear-w-cub-sign.jpgbear-crossing-sign.jpgbear-country-sign.jpgfeed-bear-sign.jpg



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Sidewalks

Sidewalks lie on either side of all community roads in Bear Crossings.  All sidewalks are six and half feet wide and amply lit by post style street lights and connect to the community walking trails.  Due to the purveyance of 20 foot cleared right of ways and home buffer zones, sidewalks are safe spaces that can be utilized by all members of the community.  Road design, combined with these buffers, makes certain pedestrians are able to view oncoming traffic, other pedestrians, and wildlife. This encourages multimodal transportation within the neighborhood.

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Forest

The Bear Crossings development has placed approximately 213 acres of forest and wetland (79% of developable area) under conservation easement.  This easement is managed by a land trust ensuring the property is maintained as outlined in the language of the permit.  Specific elements stressed within the legal text of the easement are the need for the management of the Florida black bear, ongoing trail management to increase user safety, and the maintenance of the Wildlife Viewing Area and all associated buffers.  The conveyance of a conservation easement onto the surrounding area also ensures that the property will be managed in a way that will allow for constant utility of the land by all wildlife species and fauna.

The forest adjacent to home lots is maintained in a staggered pattern. Forest land extending 30 feet from residential property lines are kept free of underbrush. Forest land beyond this will be maintained with prescribed burning to encourage a vital diverse forest community. This creates a maximum view shed for residents to view the natural areas while discouraging bears from entering into residential property.  

Continual maintenance of the forest land and buffer zones permeate benefits to the homeowner and surrounding wildlife.  The easement ensures the area provides safety and utility to the black bear during denning, reproduction, and movement from area to another.


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Road Easements

Flashing lights and roadway signage have been placed on the collector road to inform motorists they are entering Bear Country and to drive carefully. A 500 foot easement has been placed on either side of this large road outside of Bear Crossings.  This easement has been placed to ensure residents are protected from noise pollution originating from the collector road, shield homes from views of the roadway, and accommodating wildlife passage and shelter along roads.

State officials maintain this easement in much the same manner as roadways within the Bear Crossings community- 30 foot buffers and clearings to maintain consistent lines of sight. Other speed reduction measures such as lowering posted speed limits and active speed impediments have been suggested to state and municipal officials.

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Road Easements

Vegetation on either side of the road will be mowed to a height of two to three inches extending twenty feet from the end of pavement on either side of roadways.  Clearings on both sides of the road increase motorist visibility, resulting in lower potential accidents and incidental road kill.  Clearings will increase in diameter along roadways that turn, to increase motorist visibility.  Speed bumps are located on long straight roads near bear travel corridors, encouraging slow speeds in an effort to decrease incidental road kill.

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Underpass

A wildlife underpass has been placed at the lake bridge so black bears and other wildlife can cross streets safely and maximize motorist safety.  Large areas of plant and scrub cover will be maintained leading up to each side of the structure to accommodate wildlife passage.  Passage over water should be elevated and wide enough to accommodate bear passage (eight feet).  Visibility on both sides of the underpass should be maintained to maximize use by wildlife.

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Lake Ursus and Cub Lake

Lake Ursus will be maintained as a recreational lake.  The banks of the lake will be kept free from vegetation and maintained in a golf course water way type manner.  The homeowners are able to use non-motorized watercraft on the lake. Vessels such as canoes, kayaks, and boats ensure the community lake remains quiet, peaceful, and free from pollutants discharged from motorized watercrafts.

Cub Lake will be managed to mimic a natural pond, creating a conservation area utilized by wildlife in the area. Plantings along its waterline should mimic natural forest and wetland borders; however, the height of this vegetation is not to exceed three feet. Both lakes will have rock linings, be 10 to 12 feet deep, and serve as storm water features.

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Neighborhood Policy

Important neighborhood policies, rules, and regulations are listed below:

  • Multiple buffers, rules, and ordinances are listed throughout this document.  This section does not attempt to author comprehensive neighborhood policy and ordinances but rather outlines important aspects of neighborhood policy and regulations that should be included in homeowners’ association ordinances, by-laws, deed restrictions, and covenants.
  • All buffers as specified in this document shall be maintained and implemented.  Punitive fines should be established to ensure the compliance of these buffer zones at the individual property.  Funds gathered from fines will be placed into a community Bear and Wildlife Aware account.
  • These buffers shall be reviewed and modified regularly to follow best available practices.
  • The homeowners’ association shall distribute ongoing seasonal information about wildlife and bear smart practices.
  • The homeowners’ association shall distribute information including bear smart tips to renters and new home owners.
  • The developer (initially) and homeowners’ association must supply wildlife-resistant refuse disposal containers for each individual property.
  • A Bear and Wildlife Aware committee shall be established to ensure community compliance with wildlife smart practices.
  • The Bear and Wildlife Aware committee should be given access to the Bear and Wildlife Aware account for the allocation of funds to ongoing environmental education, attractant information provision and distribution, community wildlife festivals, and other actions the community deems appropriate.
  • Birdfeeders, exposed BBQ grills, outdoor pet feeding, orchards, and vegetable gardens are prohibited in Bear Crossings.
  • A compliance clause and punitive measures shall be included (for violating wildlife-safe practices and measures as listed in this document) in all rental agreements, homeowners’ association agreements, and contractor arrangements.
  • Garbage canisters placed before the morning of pick up is prohibited in the community. Punitive fines encourage compliance among the residents.
  • All funds gathered from the levying of fines for failure to follow homeowners’ association ordinances, rental of community facilities, and use of community features shall be directed towards a Bear and Wildlife Aware account.

 

Community

Community involvement is paramount to the successful implementation of any plan.  This document advocates the establishment of a Bear and Wildlife Aware Committee.  This volunteer committee should be established by the developer during the sale of homes and should be comprised of men and women who will assist with environmental efforts and wildlife management efforts within their community.  This group will work alongside the homeowners’ association to ensure that wildlife smart and bear aware practices are followed.  Initial responsibilities of the Bear and Wildlife Aware Committee are:

  • Regular yard inspections to ensure compliance with homeowners’ association attractant and buffer regulations.
  • Facilitation of environmental programming to communicate the value and importance of the bear in the community and reasoning behind existing buffers and regulations.
  • Volunteer trail maintenance.
  • Organization of community wildlife festivals.

Future endeavors of the committee may include:

  • Site plan review of new development within Bear Crossings to ensure compliance with existing regulations.
  • Wildlife education and -smart site design education programming for the larger public.

Should you have any questions, suggestions or ideas regarding the design of this or other "Bear Smart" developments please contact the Bear Management Program of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission at bearmanagement@MyFWC.com.



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