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Uptick In Panhandle Bear Sightings Prompts 'Cohabitate Safely With Bears' Workshop

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The number of bear sightings is on the rise in the Florida Panhandle.  State wildlife officials are holding a workshop to teach residents how to safely cohabitate with the bears.

For the past 10 years, the Florida Panhandle’s black bear population has been on an upswing. And, in recent months, the number of bear sightings has seen a sharp uptick as well.  So far this year, there have been about 100 more sightings than usual. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Barbara Almario says the mating season brings out more bears, but so does an increase in the human population.

“And, there’s been a lot of construction in the last 10 years in this area. So, you see the habitat, that once was forested, now contains subdivisions and homes. So, there’s going to be more interactions with humans and wildlife because of that,” said Almario.

Almario says wildlife officials want both residents and black bears to be safe. So, they’re setting up a bear safety workshop that will educate the public on how to safely deter bears from roaming around their area.

“...because the more times the bears spend in the neighborhood, the more likely they’ll be hit by cars or get into trouble. And, that’s not something we want to see. So, we want to make sure that people stay on top of that and learn what to do to keep the bears in the woods,” Almario added.

“And, the biggest thing is garbage. I mean, we put garbage out in scraps of food out onto the curb and we leave it unattended. So, the best thing people can do is to learn how to secure that garbage until the day of their garbage pick-up.”

Most of the bear sightings have been in the Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties. The public safety workshop starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Pensacola State College-South Santa Rosa Center.

For more information on bear safety tips, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Website.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.