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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Central Florida counties get money to curb human-bear interactions

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 12:00 PM

State money was spread across 12 counties on Tuesday to help reduce the potential for conflicts between Florida's bear and human populations.

Most of the $825,000 in "BearWise" program money will go to lower the cost of bear-resistant trash cans for residents, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a release announcing the grants.

"Today's funding announcement is innovative conservation work in action and serves as an important step forward for Florida communities that are working to address this serious problem," commission Chairman Brian Yablonski said in prepared statement. "By continuing to strengthen our partnerships with local governments and neighborhoods, we are helping give Floridians the tools needed to reduce interactions with bears."

The announcement came six months after the commission voted against holding a bear hunt this year, instead focusing on efforts to reduce interactions between bears and humans.

A 2015 hunt was highly controversial, but supporters have argued that hunting is one way to manage bear populations and to reduce potentially dangerous bear-human interactions. The two-day 2015 hunt, the first in the state in two decades, resulted in 304 bears being killed.

Since then, the state bear population has been estimated at more than 4,000, a considerable increase from the 1970s, when there were 300 to 500 black bears in Florida and the animals were placed on the state's list of threatened species. Bears were removed from the list in 2012.

Bear-resistant containers cost more than standard trash and recycling bins. A traditional 95-gallon container may sell for about $60, while a more-durable, similarly sized container with a bear-resistant lid is marketed around $200.

Seminole, Lake, Orange and Santa Rosa counties each will get $150,000 for the program.

Money is also going to local governments and homeowners' groups in Collier, Franklin, Gulf, Leon, Marion, Putnam, Volusia and Wakulla counties.

The Volusia County cities of Daytona Beach and DeBary are each slated to receive $20,000.

Early this year, the Legislature allocated $500,000 to the state agency for bear-proofing measures from money raised through fees paid by hunters for the 2015 hunt. The other $325,000 was raised through sales of "Conserve Wildlife" license plates.

Most of the money requires local governments to match the state funds and to approve ordinances regarding the maintenance of residential and business trash.

The release from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the agency will seek additional money from the Legislature in 2017 to maintain the conflict-reduction program.

"As we take this important step forward, we need to be mindful that efforts to implement our comprehensive bear management plan will need to continue in earnest as our bear populations continue to grow and thrive across Florida," commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said in a prepared statement.

Earlier this month, the commission released a pair of educational videos intended to assist people living near bear habitats about how to co-exist with the animals.

"Ideally, black bears live in forests far from human development where they forage for natural foods like acorns and insects," the narrator of the video says in one. "Unfortunately, as human populations expand, bear habitat is lost."

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