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Think Like a Bear

Featured Photo from Think Like a Bear

Bears have a schedule, just like you do. - Diane Hirth, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

It helps to think like a bear when trying to prevent human-bear conflicts in your neighborhood. 

Bears follow a seasonal calendar of when they’re most hungry and thus most actively seeking out food. If you and your neighbors know when to expect increased bear activity, it’s easier to keep bears out of your backyard and keep yourself, your family, your pets, and the bears safe. The good news is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and local governments are working together to make it easier for you to do the right things to minimize bear encounters and prevent conflicts.

So, what does a bear’s schedule look like?

Spring is a bear’s wake-up call! Bears are increasingly active in spring and early summer. As the weather warms up, they are moving around more in search of food. Cubs born early in the year are much bigger now and starting to travel around with their mother. 

Summer is when the bears are looking for fruits in the forest, as well as their mates. 

Fall is when a bear’s stomach starts really grumbling and telling it to bulk up for winter. Bears need to consume up to 20,000 calories a day to prepare for winter. If it’s easier to paw through garbage, knock over a bird feeder, or dine on pet food outdoors  rather than foraging for acorns in the woods, bears will overcome their natural fear of people to take advantage of the calorie-rich foods we offer them in our backyards or dumpsters. 

Once you understand a bear’s seasonally driven behaviors, how can you avoid inviting bears to dinner in your neighborhood?

Keep your trash secure. Store your trash in a secure location like a garage or sturdy shed until the morning of pickup, not the night before. You also can buy or rent bear-resistant trash cans in western Seminole County. Contact your waste service company for details (Advanced Disposal at 800-348-4701 or Waste Pro at 407-774-0800). Or if you have a sturdy trash can, you can modify it with hardware to make it bear-resistant. Check out how at MyFWC.com/Bear.

Know how to be BearWise. Call the FWC’s Northeast Regional Office at 352-732-1225 if you are concerned about a bear that is doing something more than just passing through your neighborhood. This gives FWC staff the opportunity to work with your entire community on implementing BearWise strategies to keep bears wild and promote the safety of both humans and bears. Don’t wait until a bear has injured a pet or broken into a screened-in porch to call the FWC. Once a bear is used to hanging out in a neighborhood to find food, dealing with the situation becomes more challenging. If you suspect illegal activity, like someone feeding bears, or there is a wildlife emergency, contact the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline, 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Get involved. Before your neighborhood starts experiencing conflicts, reach out to the FWC. Staff are ready and willing to help you take BearWise actions that will help conserve bears by keeping them in the forest and away from places where people live and work.  

Meanwhile it’s always a good time to do the basics to prepare for the seasons when bears are particularly active and hungry. In addition to keeping garbage secure: 

  • Feed pets indoors, or bring their outside food dishes in at night, even if they are empty. Store pet or livestock feed in bear-resistant containers, garages, or sturdy sheds.
  • Remove bird and wildlife feeders. Ensure outdoors areas are free of all seed, corn, and other wild animal feed.
  • Keep garage doors closed to prevent bears from wandering inside in search of refrigerators, freezers, pet food, and stored garbage.
  • Keep gardens and orchards tidy. Harvest nuts, fruits, and vegetables when they are ripe. Remove rotten fruit or vegetables.
  • Use electric fences to protect livestock, beehives, gardens, and compost piles.

Florida currently has over 4,000 black bears living in a state with over 20 million people. Your efforts to be BearWise and help prevent human-bear conflicts are invaluable! Go to MyFWC.com/Bear for more information. Thank you for being part of the solution to how we can safely coexist with Florida black bears.

Diane Hirth is the habitat and species conservation communications coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
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