Homestead police began the Fourth of July responding to an unwelcome backyard guest: a young black bear strolling from home to home in a popular subdivision on the east side of town.
A resident called police around 1:30 a.m.. Thursday in the Oasis housing development, reporting a bear sighting. Squad cars arrived and officers spotted what they described as a four-foot-tall black bear “walking in between backyards,” said Homestead Police Col. Scott Kennedy.
“The bear was not aggressive,” Kennedy said. Officers tracked the bear on its tour through suburbia, generally keeping their vehicles between themselves and the animal estimated to weigh about 200 pounds.
As sunrise approached, police were concerned residents would head out on the holiday morning and encounter the furry interloper. Officers contacted residents near where the bear had been, and asked neighborhood associations to send out email alerts, Kennedy said.
“We don’t know what time people wake up to go for a job, or take a dog for a walk,” he said. “We didn’t want them to be accosted by a bear.”
The bear eluded officers early in the morning before a state wildlife crew could arrive, leaving the city about 30 miles southwest of Miami to balance spreading the word about the sighting with the reality that black bears are natural inhabitants in rural Florida.
The city has stepped up police patrols in the Oasis area, and is urging residents to be on the alert for the bear. “We didn’t want the community to be paranoid,” said Patricia Fairclough, a Homestead council member and the city’s vice mayor. “But we wanted them to be aware. It’s Fourth of July. People are going to be out barbecuing. We wanted them to know.”
Late Thursday, a bear was spotted again in the city, this time in the Mallorca subdivision. Shortly before 11 p.m., Kennedy said it looked like the same bear doing the same thing: wandering through a Homestead backyard. He said the state Fish and Wildlife officers were on their way to try and catch the animal.
Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission website states “it is easy to live in harmony with bears.” The agency said bears that wander into residential areas often are attracted by garbage and other food sources that should not be left exposed enough that they attract wildlife. For encounters, the website said people should get in a safe place, see that the bear has an escape route and then begin banging pots or making other loud noises to scare the animal away.
“If children have a long walk to and from the bus stop, they can carry a whistle or small air horn with them in order to scare a bear away,” the agency said.
In Homestead, Kennedy said the city plans increased patrols in the Oasis neighborhood for the next two weeks at the least and will be urging residents to report any bear sightings. The police department’s advice to residents includes extra vigilance at night and in situations that might make them particularly vulnerable.
“Obviously, being out with small pets and small children, they should take into account that there has been a bear spotted in their neighborhood,” Kennedy said. “Minimize the areas where you might ordinarily walk your dog, like in open areas where you’re exposed.”
For the city in the heart of Miami’s farmland, the black bear of Oasis presents a novel and natural cause for alarm.
“I’ve been in the city of Homestead for 40 years,” Kennedy said. “I’ve never had a call about a bear. We’ve had snakes and alligator calls. I can’t remember a bear.”