In 1994, the Florida Game and Fish Commission declared that the Florida black bear was endangered. The commission went through channels to have the bear placed on the endangered species list. At that time the bear population was estimated at between 1,280 and 1,290. The agency did a population estimate in 1998 indicating that there were approximately 1,500 bears in the state. The most recent survey done in 2002 showed the population to be between 2,800 and 3,000. With that kind of growth between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, one might assume that if the growth rate remained the same the bear population may be as many as 1,000 to 12,000 today.
Any woodsman can tell you that contact with bears has become extremely frequent. The bear has lost its fear of humans and has become more and more aggressive. In the last 10 years, 16 people have been viciously attacked by black bears and nine have lost their lives. In the last two year, two people in Florida have been attacked. In Oct. 2012 in Collier County, a game warden was so aggressively attacked that he had to use his sidearm to kill the bear. Records reveal that 90 percent of black bear attacks are by males involving food. This seems to contradict the Game and Fish Commission’s assertion that bears only eat berries.
Hunters can tell you that a favorite dinner of the bear is the newborn fawn, not berries. One study showed that of 21 newborn fawns, 10 of them were eaten by bears in two weeks. A study in Georgia revealed that out of 37 fawns that died, 18 were eaten by bears. One hunter said that a bear stile his dead deer before he could put it in his truck. The deer population in Florida is being severely damaged by the presence of hungry black bears. In studies done in other states, it is proven that bears eat as many fawns as coyotes. Unlike the bear, coyotes are free game. They are considered a nuisance and can be killed at any time, but the bear eats more newborn fawns than coyotes.
Most states have opened seasons on black bears in order to control the population. South Carolina’s population has grown to the point that the Department of Natural Resources has opened a season and estimates there are upwards of 1,200. Pennsylvania has a population of 18,000 where hunters harvested 4,350 last year. The state of Georgia’s bear population has increased by 20 percent annually. This is in spite of the state’s bear season where the limit for a hunter has doubled, and the cost of obtaining a bear license is a mere $19. Even California has a bear season. Hunters took 1,475 in 2012 in that state. By contrast, Florida’s Game and Fish Commission has yet to see that there is a problem here. It has been 11 years since a bear count has been done.
A bear has the best nose in the woods. Its sense of smell is 10 times greater than that of a bloodhound. This enables them to know where each and every deer is trying to hide, including newborn fawns. Bears’ keen sense of smell also helps them to find clutches of turkey eggs. Because these creatures are such easy prey, bears are fast depleting their food in the woods. A bear comes to town for food, not because he is lazy, but because there is nothing left in the woods to eat.