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FWC Wants To Reduce Barriers To Bear-Proof Cans

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FWC's Flickr

  Florida’s first bear hunt in decades starts next month. It’s part of a plan to stop an increasing number of bears from coming into communities. But while Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members are finalizing hunt details, the group is already looking for more solutions.

Florida Fish and wildlife officials have never imagined that a bear hunt alone would solve the problem of bears and humans bumping into each other. But they do think it will help.  WFSU spoke with the FWC's director of habitat and species conservation, Thomas Eason, before the hunt received final approval. 

“We are serious about human safety," Eason said. "I can look at you as the bear expert and say two years ago  I would have said there have been no serious bear attacks in Florida and we are doing everything possible to prevent that. And the unfortunate reality is four serious attacks in the last 14 months or so and we can’t ignore those dynamics. The challenge is to find the right balance of doing what’s needed for human safety and also doing what’s best for bears.”

During a recent FWC commission meeting, officials finalized plans for the hunt. More than 1,800 bear hunting licenses have been approved while officials have set a limit of only 320 bears that can be bagged during the October hunt. And commissioner member Ronald Bergeron points out, many of the bears that are killed in Florida this year won’t die because of hunters. They’ll be euthanized by the FWC.

"If we're going to live with bears and have sustainable populations, it's a waste of a resource to euthanize bears and put food out there to attract bears," Bergeron says.

So far this year Wildlife officials have euthanized more than 70 bears who have lost their fear of humans and begun to associate them with food. Last legislative session, lawmakers changed the state’s feeding rules to create a stair-step penalty approach and make it easier to crack down on people feeding bears, but Eason says the food bears get from people’s homes isn’t always something that’s intentionally been left out for them to eat. 

“The biggest one is garbage. We think it’s gross, to a bear it’s like an all you can eat smorgasbord. And it is just a huge attractant to an animal who has evolved to fatten up to over winter as many as six months," Eason says.

About 90 percent of the bear-related calls the FWC receives come from just 14 counties in Florida. Eason says the solution is to get the people living in those areas to use bear proof trash cans. He estimates it’ll take about a million and a half cans to address the issues. But he says when it comes to getting people to use them, cost can be a barrier. So Eason has an idea.

“A legislative budget request that would take revenues from bear permits and then turn those back around into having cost sharing available so we can have cost incentive money coming from FWC to help with bear resistant trash equipment to help with the implementation and technical assistance,” Eason says.

Eason says something as simple as adding a latch to a can can lead to a 50 percent reduction in bears snacking on neighborhood garbage. He says using a bear proof trash can, which is much stronger, leads to a 95 percent reduction in complaint calls about bears.