Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
News

Black bear lumbers through Spring Hill neighborhood

By ,
Published:   |   Updated: May 4, 2013 at 10:07 AM
SPRING HILL -

Jose Franco saw something from his enclosed porch Wednesday more surprising than the morning news broadcast he was watching.

?I lived in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania, so I?m familiar with bears,? Franco said. ?What surprised was the size, and why it was here.?

In the 15 years he?s lived in Spring Hill he has never seen a black bear lumbering around like this along Alderwood Street, just east of U.S. 19. There are road signs every now and again along the coast where a known bear population exists ? but that?s the coast.

?It looked like it was 400 pounds or more,? Franco said, so he grabbed his camera and snapped a photo. ?He didn?t stay too long.?

Black bears are protected by law in Florida. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the bear population along the west coast, from Hernando County north, is the smallest subpopulation area in the state and most vulnerable to habitat loss ? less space in which to forage and roam.

?Florida black bears are normally shy creatures that avoid people,? said Chad Allison, district biologist and bear specialist with the FWC. ?Fortunately, the avoidance behavior that bears typically exhibit helps both bears and people coexist without much fanfare.?

Once the bear was gone, Franco said he went to show the picture to his neighbor, Greg Sherlock, who lives across the street.

?He came over to me and said, ?Hey, Greg I want to show you something! I took a picture of a black bear in my yard!?? Sherlock said. ?And as he was showing it to me his brother came out and said, ?It?s back.??

?And there it was, standing in the yard behind his,? Sherlock added.

If you come face-to-face with a bear, Allison said: don?t panic, don?t look it in the eye and don?t turn your back and run.

?Just move away slowly on an angle, making sure that the animal has an escape route,? Allison said. ?Bears are pretty calm animals and not looking to cause trouble.?

The bear was gone by the time the sheriff?s deputy arrived.

?This thing was big,? Sherlock said. ?I called the police.?

If there was any sense of bewilderment that this deputy was experiencing with this 911 call, then Sherlock could empathize with it, having only been there moments ago himself.

?If anyone else would have told me they would have seen a bear, I would have probably laughed at them, but he had pictures immediately and then I saw it for myself,? Sherlock said. ?When the cop came, we had to show him pictures so he didn?t think we were crazy.?

The deputy called in wildlife control, but despite efforts to find the bear, they could not. The suspicion was that an abandoned house, overgrown and deep in the woods with what looked to be garbage all around it, might have had something to do with the bear wandering as far off as it did. That has certain appeal to an animal that stays active year-round, foraging opportunistically to find food wherever it can.

?The normal behavior of bears can be short-circuited if people provide these animals with the opportunity to forage in and around their neighborhood,? Allison said.

When a bear learns there is easy access to food in a human neighborhood, often in unsecured trash, bird feeders or pet food left outside, it is apt to return repeatedly, and once a successful pattern of securing regular meals in a human neighborhood has been established, the bear may learn humans are not to be feared, since being near them has its obvious rewards.

?A bear that chronically returns to homes is not typically relocated because chances are high that the animal will continue to repeat the behavior no matter where it is,? reads an FWC statement. ?Worse, when cubs learn these feeding habits from their mother, they, too, sadly, become victims of feeding opportunities they should not have ? opportunities that put their lives in danger when human-bear conflicts arise.?

Sherlock would have expected to see an alligator before a black bear, he said, and that his kids were disappointed they didn?t get to see it for themselves.

?My kids, they are excited when I picked them up from school,? Sherlock said. ?They were mad they didn?t get to see it. I let them take photos to school today.?

The FWC cautions residents to eliminate feeding opportunities by storing garbage in a manner that denies bears access to it and to consider the following steps to prevent human-bear conflicts:

Feed your pets indoors, or bring in dishes after feeding.

Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or wildlife-resistant container.

Put household garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before.

Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters consisting of metal lids or metal-reinforced plastic lids and lock bars.

Clean barbecue grills and store them in a locked, secure place.

Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.

Protect gardens, apiaries, compost and livestock with electric fencing.

Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground.

Encourage your homeowners association or local government to institute ordinances on keeping foods secure that would attract wildlife.

Bears seen foraging in trash, pet food or other attractants, or bears that exhibit other destructive behavior, should be reported immediately to the FWC by calling the Wildlife Alert Hotline at (888) 404-3922 or, during regular working hours, the FWC?s Lakeland Regional office at (863) 648-3200.

Comments

Part of the Tribune family of products

© 2014 TAMPA MEDIA GROUP, LLC