FWC to taking steps to remove Florida black bear from threatened species list

June 11, 2011

Removing feeders can help deter black bears from entering your yard. Photo courtesy Melissa Wilder.

From the Desk of the FWC

By Stan Kirkland, FWC

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) took the initial step this week in removing the Florida black bear and 15 other species from the state’s list of threatened species.

In 2007 the Commission began a review of threatened species to see which had recovered and warranted removal from the list, and which should remain. The review focused on 61 species and involved more than 200 experts – 174 of them from outside the FWC. It was the most comprehensive review ever undertaken of the state’s threatened wildlife.

When Commissioners looked at the results this week, they voted 6-0 to move forward with recommendations of the review groups to remove 16 species from the list, keep 40 species on the threatened species list, and move five to the “species of special concern” category.
“The Commissioners said they approved of the work thus far in the review, and want staff to move forward with developing a statewide bear management plan,” said Patricia Zick, the FWC’s threatened species communications coordinator.

Work on the statewide bear management plan has been under way for some time. As work continues, Zick said the public will have an opportunity for input. It’s expected the finalized plan, with full protection and conservation measures for black bear, will be presented to Commissioners in 2012. Until Commissioners approve the plan, the black bear and the other 15 species will remain on the threatened species list.

One thing is certain – Florida’s black bear population is growing. FWC bear management staff estimate there are now 2,500-3,000 bears, up from 500 animals in 1974.
According to FWC staff, there are five large bear subpopulations in the state – Apalachicola, Eglin, Osceola, Ocala/St. Johns and Big Cypress. Two smaller remnant populations are identified as the Chassahowitzka and Glades/Highlands groups.

Florida’s black bear is similar to black bears found throughout North America and Canada. They get large in Florida – sometimes exceeding 600 pounds. They are usually solitary animals, except sows when accompanied by their cubs. Sows typically give birth to two cubs, sometimes three, every other year. The cubs stay with the sow for up to 18 months.
When it comes to diet, bears in Florida are similar to black bears elsewhere. They are omnivores, with approximately 80% of their diet made of plant material, the rest insect and animal matter.

As the state’s human population continues to expand, one of the biggest challenges will be how to prevent or reduce bear incursions into populated areas in search of food.
Zick said the number one thing people can do to prevent bear problems is to deny bears easy access to any possible food items. She said bears will sometimes get into household garbage, eat birdseed and go after leftover barbeque trimmings.

She said the FWC website has lots of information about living near bears, including how to retrofit garbage cans to keep out bears and the use of caddies to deny bears access to the cans.  The FWC website is MyFWC.com.