BearWise program hopes to discourage bear scavenging in Florida

Photo: WUWF Public Media

It’s not just irresponsible campers leaving unsecured food in campsites that lures bears resulting in conflicts between bears and humans. Bears quickly learn that trash cans, dumpsters, and bird feeders are sources of food and that these sources are also connected to humans. So if a bear wanders into your campsite, it likely has already learned to follow the smells of food and to identify humans with food sources, even though you have done everything properly in your campsite.

But in Florida, the “BearWise” program is attempting to head off the bear’s early education of identifying humans with food by securing trash cans and dumpsters.

“We have 4,000 bears and almost 21 million people, and we just need to figure out how to live in the same space and not encourage bears to come into our space,” said Dave Telesco, who leads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Bear Management Program, which oversees the BearWise program that began in 2007.

Up to $500,000 will be provided to local and county governments, offsetting some of the expenses for bear-resistant trash cans and dumpsters – providing they already have an ordinance to keep trash secure until pickup day. FWC staff will continue to meet with governments and homeowner’s associations on enacting the ordinances required by BearWise trash ordinances.

Santa Rosa Commissioner Bob Cole, who came across a bear in his garage last fall, is skeptical about the BearWise plan, saying everything they’re now seeing from Fish and Wildlife are short-term solutions. What, he asks, is going to happen to the growing bear population? “Mama Bear keeps teaching the cubs how to forage through trash cans instead of naturally, like they should be doing.” From WUWF.org.

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