Florida Fish and Wildlife officials are holding a workshop Tuesday to discuss the management of the black bear population in the east Florida Panhandle area. It’s the last of six workshops to get people involved in working with the FWC on local bear issues.
By blowing air out of their noses as well as opening and closing their jaw, Florida black bears are doing what's called huffing and popping its jaw. That's a defensive noise they make because they feel uncomfortable—much like the rattling sound a rattlesnake makes as a sign of warning.
In that sort of situation, wildlife officials say it’s much better to back away slowly. And, those are the sorts of things taught to reduce human-bear conflict—also one of the objectives of Bear Management Units, or BMUs.
Under the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 2012 Florida Black Bear management Plan, seven BMUs must be established to manage the different bear populations throughout the state. Kaitlin O'Connell is the agency’s stakeholder coordinator for the Bear Management program.
“And, what the Bear Management Unit [BMU] process does is it allows us at the FWC the ability to manage bears based on the characteristics within each of those Bear Management units. So, what works in South Florida might not work in the West Panhandle of Florida. So, we can adapt our management practices to suit those needs,” said O'Connell, the agency’s stakeholder coordinator for the Bear Management program.
So far, there are two BMU’s created in the West Panhandle and the Central Florida area. Now, officials are trying to create the third unit in the East Panhandle area, which includes Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Jackson and Jefferson counties. It also covers Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla, and Washington counties.
O’Connell says the hope is to gather as much input as possible during multiple workshops they’ve held so far that they can present to FWC commissioners. And, she says they’ve been getting a lot of input so far.
“You know, everything from building a preserve that has a high fence to put conflict bears instead of euthanizing them to opening up a hunt and kind of everything in between there,” stated O’Connell.
O’Connell says getting people from all walks of life to sign up as members of the East Panhandle Bear Stakeholder group is another goal of the workshops. She says they will be helping officials to work through some of the problems that people have been having with bears recently.
“Mostly in the East Panhandle specifically, 45-percent of the calls we get are bears getting into trash. So, locking up trash is a really simple thing to say; however, sometimes it’s not a simple thing to do. People don’t have garages. They can’t afford to build a shed to put their garbage in. So, we’re trying to find different options for these people so they don’t feel helpless,” said O'Connell.
Some ideas already floated by the FWC include bear-resistant garbage cans. Dave Telesco heads the FWC’s bear management program.
Below is a video via FWC’s YouTube channel, which features Telesco showing how to use three brands of rolling trashcans with or without automatic locking lids.
So far, bear-resistant trash cans have been distributed in areas, like Franklin, Wakulla, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa counties. FWC recently partnered with Leon County and Waste Pro to offer free bear resistant trash cans to 100 residents there. So far, Telesco says about 30 people have taken advantage, and he hopes more will come on board.
Meanwhile, the last public workshop for input on managing bears will take place at the Gulf Coast State College’s Gulf-Franklin Campus located in Port Saint Joe at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
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