How to Deal With Protected Bears in Unexpected Areas
Give Them Room, Leave Them Alone
Last updated 6/11/2023 at 12:30pm
Close on the heels of the recent discovery of a black bear hiding in a tree on the Lake Wailes Trail, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is sharing the reminder that juvenile black bears are starting to leave their mothers' home ranges in search of new homes of their own.
Between the ages of 1½ -2½ years, juvenile or yearling bears start dispersing in spring and summer, with spring marking a return to activity for bears after limited movements in winter. During this time, juvenile bears may be seen in unexpected areas as they travel across a wide range of areas in search of a new location to settle down.
In recent weeks, bears have wandered into not only Lake Wales, but even Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville. After causing considerable excitement, the local bear escaped from Lake Wailes the following night.
"The most important thing people can do to help these bears is to leave them alone," said the FWC's Bear Management Program Coordinator, Mike Orlando. "Give them plenty of space and let them move along on their own."
Black bears are generally not aggressive but, like any wild animal, if they feel threatened, they can become defensive. Dogs have been involved in over half of the incidents of people getting injured by bears in Florida. When walking dogs, keep them close to you – preferably on a non-retractable leash – and be aware of your surroundings, which is good practice for preventing conflicts with both bears and other wildlife. Before letting your dog out at night, flip lights on and off and bang on the door to give bears and other wildlife a chance to leave the area.
As bears become more active this time of year, they cross more roadways. For your own safety and to avoid hitting bears and other wildlife, remember to slow down when driving, particularly on rural highways at dawn or dusk. Watch for road signs identifying bear crossing areas. Each year in Florida, an average of 250 bears are killed after being hit by vehicles.
If you have bears in your area, follow these additional BearWise® Basics to help prevent conflicts with bears:
1: Never feed or approach bears
Feeding bears can make them lose their natural fear of people.
It is illegal in Florida to intentionally feed bears or leave out food or garbage that will attract bears and cause conflicts.
Getting close to a wild animal is dangerous.
2: Secure food and garbage
Store garbage in a sturdy shed or garage and then put it out on the morning of pickup rather than the night before.
If not stored in a secured building, modify your existing garbage can to make it more bear-resistant or use a bear-resistant container.
Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
Protect gardens, beehives, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
Pick ripe fruit from trees and bushes and remove fallen fruit from the ground.
3: Remove or secure bird and wildlife feeders
Remove wildlife feeders.
If wildlife feeders are left up, only put enough food out for wildlife to finish eating before dark and make feeders bear-resistant.
4: Never leave pet food outdoors
Feed pets indoors.
If feeding pets outdoors, only put food outside for short time periods and bring in leftover food and dishes after each feeding.
5: Clean and store grills
Clean and degrease grills and smokers after each use.
If mobile, store them in a secure shed or garage.
6: Alert neighbors to bear activity
If you see a bear, let your neighbors know.
Share tips on how to avoid conflicts with bears.
Encourage your homeowner's association or local government to institute bylaws or ordinances to require trash be kept secure.
Having conflicts with bears? Call one of the FWC's five regional offices. Go to MyFWC.com/Contact, and click on "Contact Regional Offices" to find the phone number for your region. If you want to report someone who is either harming bears or intentionally feeding them, call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
More information is available at MyFWC.com/Bear, where you can access the "Guide to Living in Bear Country" brochure. Find additional ways to be BearWise at BearWise.org. Thirty-eight states, including Florida, support BearWise®, an innovative program that helps people learn ways to responsibly live around bears. Help us help bears and other wildlife by purchasing the Conserve Wildlife license plate at WildlifeFlorida.org/CWT