As the bear population continues to grow under the protection of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) human encounters with bears have increased too for better or worse.
This is a bumper year for acorns, and with acorns come hungry bears.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bear biologist Adam Warwick said it is by far the busiest season he has experienced. In Carrabelle, Eastpoint and Lanark Village conversation is abuzz with bear stories. One woman reported seeing six bears in a single oak tree. Warwick said he saw 13 bears on one day while working around Hinton Road in Lanark.
Most comments have been positive, with people telling how beautiful and healthy the bear population has become. Lots of folks are scrambling for their cameras.
For the first time, Carrabelle’s Black Bear Festival had an actual bear in attendance. Warwick brought a small female bear that had been trapped for relocation, and as the crowd watched, he darted, weighed and measured the bear.
Not all encounters with bears had a happy ending this year. Albert E. Smythe of Lanark Village was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on Oct. 3, for shooting a black bear and attempting to hide his actions after FWC officers investigated an incident that took place at Smythe’s home on April 10. Initially, Smythe claimed to have witnessed a hit-and-run involving the bear but further investigation showed the bear had been shot.
A necropsy was performed on the 120-pound bear at the FWC Gainesville Research Lab and a bullet was recovered from the bear’s spine. Doctors concluded the bear could have died from bleeding from the gunshot wound, suffocation, or possible undetected injuries to the lungs. Injuries typically associated with bears hit by vehicles were not found on the Lanark bear.
DNA tied the blood on Smythe’s truck to the bear found in the ditch.
Although black bears were delisted as a species of special concern in August, Smythe was charged in the April incident with “taking of a threatened species,” a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. A neighbor said Smythe had trouble with bears getting into his garbage.
On a happier note, some local folks played guardian angel to a bear cub recently injured by an automobile.
On Dec. 12, FWC Wildlife Technician Ron Copley went in search of a bear cub reportedly injured by a car. Copley found him not far from the scene of the accident and tranquilized the cub using a dart gun. The 100 pound cub had a bloody nose and a broken leg but seemed otherwise unhurt.
Copley took the cub home and with the help of his twin 13-year-old grandsons, he splinted the cub’s leg and put it into a pen for observation.
Soon the bear was sitting up and alert. Warwick contacted a Crawfordville veterinarian, who agreed to treat the bear pro bono, and performed surgery to reset the bone. On Saturday evening, the cub was returned to the site of his capture and placed at the edge of the woods in a cage.
“Making low grunting noises (he) ran straight into the woods where his mom and siblings were waiting,” Copley said.
As if by a miracle, Thomas was successfully returned to his mother. Warwick said the bear is expected to avoid using the leg for two or three weeks and it will remain sore for a longer stretch. Griggs predicted a full recovery.
Members of the public can call the Wildlife Alert Hotline, 888-404-FWCC, or go to MyFWC.com/WildlifeAlert to report known or suspected violations or text or email to Tip@MyFWC.com.