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Living with Wildlife

By: Kyle Grammatica

We all love Florida’s wildlife. Experiencing the wide variety of unique plants and animals in our state is one of the best things about living here. Sometimes, though, animals like the black bear can create problems for the people who live near them. Florida’s black bears can rummage through trashcans and wander through neighborhoods looking for unsecured food waste, leaving behind a big mess to clean up. To help reduce these conflicts, the Foundation partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and local governments across the state to purchase bear resistant equipment for residents, businesses, and schools. Bears have adapted to living around people and we can adapt to living around them by following bear safe practices.

The BearWise program was founded by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA), of which FWC is a member, to help people live responsibly with black bears. Last year the Foundation provided $100,000 in funding for the project thanks to Conserve Wildlife license plate sales. This funding was used to purchase:

  • $65,000 to Hooley-by-the-Sea homeowners association in Santa Rosa County to purchase hardware to make regular trashcans bear-resistant for all 3,700 of their residents.
  • More than $20,000 to Lake County to purchase 83 bear-resistant trashcans.
  • $7,700 to Air Force Enlisted Village to modify 13 dumpsters to make them bear resistant.
  • $3,675 to Collier County Parks and Recreation to place a bear-resistant trash can in each of three parks.

The projects were completed with money to spare, so an additional 31 bear-resistant dumpsters were purchased for schools and other facilities. A how-to video was also produced by FWC to teach the recipients how to use the new equipment.

Becoming BearWise

The BearWise program has been successful in reducing the number of wildlife conflicts in “bear country,” decreasing bear-human conflicts up to 70%. Becoming BearWise makes communities safer for the people and the bears. To become BearWise yourself, follow these six rules:

  • Never Feed or Approach Bears – Feeding bears will teach them to associate people with food, making them more likely to approach people. While black bear attacks are extremely rare, they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. To be as safe as possible, stay away from bears.
  • Secure Food, Garbage, and Recycling – Food and food odors attract bears. Leaving trash where bears can easily access it increases the likelihood of conflict.
  • Remove Bird Feeders When Bears Are Active – High calorie seeds and grains are very attractive to bears.
  • Never Leave Pet Food Outside – If possible, feed pets indoors. If you must leave pet food outside, remove the bowls and food after your pet has eaten.
  • Clean and Store Grills – Make sure that grills have food remnants removed and are stored in a secure area.
  • Alert Neighbors To Bear Activity – Telling your neighbors about bear sightings and informing them about ways to reduce conflicts helps communities become safer.

The Conserve Wildlife Plate

By purchasing the Conserve Wildlife plate at your local tax collector’s office, your money goes towards important grants that benefit black bears, Florida grasshopper sparrows, and other species. You can learn more about our plates and the grants they fund here.

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