Bears, Bears and Bears
Several sightings of black bears are on the increase in Southwest Florida in the past months , something important enough for officials of the South Bear Management Unit to hold a workshop in Lehigh with about 50 people.
Kaitlin O’Connell, coordinator of the South Bear Management Unit of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, assembled the large crowd and first told them they were there to get suggestions, hopefully new members or stakeholders, too, and to talk about the Florida Black Bear that has been showing up at several sites in Southwest Florida.
This symposium was held at the East County Regional Library on July 1 .
O’Connell said Lehigh Acres had been chosen as the venue because they wanted to reach folks in nearby counties and towns, not only Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres, but LaBelle and surrounding counties.
She told the group that they were there to make sure visitors enjoy the bears as much as the bears enjoy Florida, which brought laughter to the audience.
Guests listened as O’Connell explained there are many bears in the state and it is the duty of the South Bear Management Unit of the Fish & Game to come up with ways so those who live here can live with the bears.
Assistant Coordinator Mike Orlando said there are ways people can keep bears from breaking into their trash containers and that there are talks going on with waste management officials where a special trash unit can be used at the street that is bear-proof.
Residents may have to pay a small fee to get the cans, however, he said.
In Lehigh Acres, at least two bear sighting were cited over the past several months and a few years ago, a black bear approached a laundry in one of the shopping centers on Homestead Rd.
When the woman who was working noticed the bear at the glass front door, she screamed and the bear became scared and ran across the parking lot and across Homestead Rd. There were no reports of the bear being hit and no search was made for the bear at the time.
Calls to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about black bears and human encounters have increased from 1,000 in 2001 to more than 2,500 in 2008 with the most common calls referring to sightings of bears in people’s garbage, Orlando said.
Bears should be discouraged from your yards if residents use proper trash and recycling containers, by removing bird and squirrel feeders, removing pet foods and bowls from outside and livestock feed and especially beehives. Bears are also attracted to fruit and nut-bearing trees and shrubs.
Many at the workshop said they wanted to become more involved with the Bear Stakeholder group. If you are interested, contact Kaitlin O’Connell at BearPlan@MyFWC.com.