New group considers how to manage South Florida’s wild bears


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has formed a South Bear Management Unit to consider problems and offer suggestions regarding bears living wild in South Florida.


It might come as a surprise to some residents, but black bears do live in South Florida. Most of them hang out in the densely wooded wilderness of the Big Cypress and Fakahatchee Strand northwest of the Miami-Dade/Broward metropolitan area.

Occasionally, a wayward bear will lumber into populated Weston, causing all sorts of consternation.

As Florida’s population of black bears grows and expands, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is looking for ways to manage and conserve the large, native mammals. And the agency is seeking help from the public to offer opinions and suggestions for better living with bears.

FWC representatives, including southeast regional director Chuck Collins, met with about 80 South Florida residents Wednesday in Sunrise to listen, learn and try to recruit members for a bear stakeholder group that would meet several times a year to discuss bear issues in the newly created South Bear Management Unit, which includes Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Collier, Hendry and Lee counties. The remainder of the state is divided into six BMUs — all following the same protocols.

Collins and his colleagues assured audience members that their input would reach the highest levels of the wildlife commission.

“We’re here to get ideas from you on how to manage this bear population,” Collins said. “We can’t come up with all the ideas. We need ideas from the public.”

The FWC staffers said their biggest headaches are human-bear conflicts that arise from residents leaving open trash cans, pet food bowls, bird seed and rotten fruit on their property. Bears become too familiar with people and help themselves to whatever is available to eat.

Although there has never been a fatal bear attack on a human recorded in Florida, there have been some dangerous encounters, including the April case of a Lake Mary woman mauled by a bear in her yard. Wildlife officers said they were forced to put down seven bears following the attack. One of the victim’s neighbors, along with two other Seminole County residents, have been charged with illegally feeding bears.

“If you educate the masses on how to live with bears, more than half the problem is solved,” FWC wildlife biologist Mike Orlando said.

Audience members were given several questionnaires to complete, asking things such as whether they would be willing to make extra efforts to make trash containers bear-proof; whether they believe nuisance bears should be euthanized, relocated or just left alone; and other bear-related questions.

The audience definitely appeared to be pro-bear. Several members said they had heard the FWC was considering allowing bear hunting in Florida.

“Give the bear the gun,” one woman suggested.

Several people in the crowd said that climate change and shrinking habitat from over development pose the biggest threats to Florida bears, which need vast areas to roam and reproduce. Another woman suggested mounting a “Smoky the Bear” public-relations campaign to educate residents about “what to do when they see a bear and steer them away from killing the bear.”

FWC personnel assured the gathering there are no plans to allow bear hunting in Florida and that they are simply in the information-gathering stage.

“Bears are a resource,” Orlando said. “You, as the public, are owners of the bears. Our agency is the steward of the bears. We want your opinion.”

To join the South Florida bear stakeholder group, email Kaitlin O’Connell at BearPlan@MyFwc.com.

Read more Outdoors stories from the Miami Herald

Boaters and divers look for lobster off Cape Florida on Wednesday July 30, 2014.


    Ex-Penn football player dies on dive during lobster miniseason

    A Broward man lost his life diving on the first day of the lobster miniseason. He might have run out of air.

  • Fishing report

    Captain Gil Gutierrez of Lucky Fishing Charters out of TNT Marina in Keystone reported that nighttime snapper fishing on the reefs offshore of Miami has been red hot. Plenty of mangrove, mutton and yellowtail snappers are biting cut bait over the reef in depths of 25 to 60 feet of water. Captain Bill Hauck from the party boat Sea King out of Marathon reported the nighttime mangrove snapper fishing on the reef is off the chart. Nighttime snapper anglers are having no problem catching a limit of snappers, which are eating ballyhoo and threadfin herring.

  • Outdoors notebook

    Off-road vehicles such as swamp buggies, street-legal 4x4s, ATVs and UTVs will be allowed back in the Big Cypress National Preserve on Friday, marking the end of the annual 60-day recreational closure to ORV access. Only the designated primary trails in the backcountry will be open. All secondary trails will remain closed for an additional 60 days. The closure does not affect landowners’ access to private property using permitted trails. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/bicy.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category