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Springtime also can be bear time. Some hints and tips for reducing bear interaction.

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Springtime also can be bear time

Some hints and tips for reducing bear interaction.
2018-04-13 10_57_05-Springtime also can be bear time - News - Panama City News Herald - Panama City,.png

PORT ST. JOE — Only minutes expired before the discussion during last weekend’s annual meeting of the Gulf Pines Property Owners Association turned to bears.

One property owner noted that she had a black bear all but living underneath her home. Another discussed the black bear of more than 400 pounds that was rendering his trash cans immaterial.

It’s spring and bears join shorebirds, flowers and a host of other species picking up the activity as the weather warms.

In Florida, the population of black bears has grown 53 percent to just more than 4,000, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

In the 1970s, there were fewer than 300.

In the Eastern Panhandle, which includes Gulf and surrounding counties, the bear population has exploded by almost 90 percent; more than 1 in 4 of Florida’s black bears now lives in the Eastern Panhandle. The area has seen significant impacts, via development, to bear habitat which has only increased in recent years as changes in land ownership has meant a transition in land-uses.

In other words, fewer trees and the associated vegetation and space that bears, which have wide home ranges, enjoy: the typical home range is 15 square miles for females and 62 for males, according to the FWC.

Tips on staying safe in bear country

Here are some tips on how to be BearWise, remain safe around black bears and reinforce their natural fear of people:

*Never approach a bear.

*Keep as much distance between you and the bear as possible. If a bear changes its behavior because of your presence, you are too close.

*When walking dogs, keep them close and be aware of your surroundings. Dogs can trigger defensive behaviors from bears. Report any bear threatening the safety of people, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC.

*If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright with arms raised, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.

*Do not turn your back, play dead or run from a black bear. Back away slowly into a secure area such as a house, car or building.

*Make sure you are in a secure area and the bear has a clear escape route, then yell loudly, bang pots and pans, blow a whistle, or use an air horn or car horn to scare the bear away.

*Install a motion-activated device, such as flood lights, a water sprinkler or audio alarm, to scare a bear away from a location when you are not present.

The No. 1 factor in bear/human interaction is food, the sweeter, the easier access, the better.

Bears have a better sense of smell than any land mammal, according to the FWC, seven times more acute to smell than a bloodhound.

And 80 percent of their diet comes from fruits, nuts and berries, nature’s sweeteners.

“Take away the source of easy food, and the scent of sweet food, and they will move on down the road,” said Dr. Pat Hardman of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County.

Indeed, the FWC notes that bears will not linger in any place where they do not find food.

The county, as discussed last weekend among Gulf Pines owners, has received FWC grant funding to purchase and distribute garbage can clasps, in St. Joe Beach and along St. Joseph Peninsula.

Some clasp sets remain; contact county offices if interested.

Hardman said in addition to some kind of protection from bears on the trash cans, uniformity within a subdivision or development was essential. This is particularly true in an area where homeowners live adjacent to rental units.

Education of short-term renters is essential, but also ensuring that all property owners, whether renting or living in their home, adhere to the same actions.

One rental unit with the food disposed of in an unsecured trash can still will attract the bears in the direction of all the cans.

“The only way to solve it is to have the whole group do it,” Hardman said.

The FWC, in its BearWise program, emphasizes a community-wide approach in addressing bear/human contact issues.

Gulf Pines property owners are pushing Waste Pro to honor the terms of its waste hauling contract with the county and provide bear-proof cans to any resident who seeks one.

Some residents have been told the request is “wait-listed” but the property owners association noted that Waste Pro is in the third year of its original five-year contract with the county.

There are two options for two-year renewals, and the availability of bear-resistant containers (for $10 additional each month) is part of the contract.

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"Chewing off tires" loved that comment today on the show. I've lived here for 17 years and have never seen a bear.

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