Stakeholders sought for bear management

Almost half of all complaints to the FWC involve bears attracted to garbage. Photo available for purchase

Almost half of all complaints to the FWC involve bears attracted to garbage.

LOIS SWOBODA
Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 10:41 AM.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is seeking volunteers to join the discussion on how to manage bears in this portion of the Panhandle.

On Thursday, May 15, 15 local residents met with an equal number of FWC employees to talk about bears. On entering the meeting, attendees were asked to complete a form indicating whether they would serve on a regional Black Bear Stakeholder Committee.

Although organizers were proactive in warning participants to keep voices low and strong emotions under control, most attendees were, basically, pro-bear and the discussion remained calm.

Kaitlin O’Connell, FWC’s black bear stakeholder coordinator, opened the meeting with a general introduction to Florida bears. Since being listed as endangered in 1974, Florida black bears made such a remarkable recovery they were delisted in 2012, which was the peak year for calls about human/bear interactions, she said. FWC received 975 calls, with an unknown number fielded by law enforcement, animal control and other local agencies.

That same year, FWC passed a 10-year bear management plan that created seven Bear Management Units (BMU). The Central Unit is the largest with just over 1,000 bears. Franklin County lies within the East Panhandle Unit, which has proposed population of 570 bears.

O’Connell told attendees the meeting was an effort to understand area residents’ attitude towards bears. She said each of the seven BMUs is different and residents of each view bear interactions differently.

“We want to make sure you enjoy the bears as much as the bears enjoy being in Florida ,” she said.



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