NAPLES — Here are the bear facts: Florida black bears are becoming more prevalent in urban settings, seeking food and their own territory.
With recent sightings from the Lely area to a gated-community in Estero, state wildlife officials say people need to learn to live with bears and follow advice, especially when it comes to securing garbage cans, bird feeders and pet food. It could preclude a human from being injured or worse and could save a bear’s life.
Following simple advice could save taxpayer’s money, too, said Gary Morse, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman.
Usually by the time a bear becomes a nuisance and needs trapped and relocated, its learned bad behavior is hard to undo, said Breanne Strepina, an FWC wildlife biologist.
If the public doesn’t follow the recommendations, then solutions become more expensive and less likely to be effective.
“What is not a solution,” Morse said, “is trapping and relocating these bears. Trapping is done when there are no other options available. That costs taxpayers a significant amount of money because when we relocate these bears it is likely they will behave similarly in other places and we will have to relocate again.”
Morse said prevention is the cheapest solution.
Residents should secure trash in a bear-proof container, keep trash in a garage or shed or put a fence around trash receptacles, especially larger Dumpsters. Placing bungee cords over the lid of a trash can is a simple and usually effective method. Bird feeders should be taken down during the dusk-to-dawn time when bears, coyotes and some other wildlife are most active. Pet food should never be left outside.
Not only do residents need to help out, so do companies and government agencies that have trash collections.
Lindsey Sampson, Lee County’s solid waste director, did not return telephone calls seeking comment, instead requesting Brigitte Kantor, a solid waste coordinator, to provide answers.
“My direction from our director is to say we don’t have a problem with bears,” Kantor said.
“We’ve not received any calls,” she said. “There’s not a single call about bears.”
That’s probably true, Morse and Strepina say, because people usually call 911, the Sheriff’s Office or FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline. Most people wouldn’t think to call their trash company.
Strepina has explained Lee County’s problems to Sampson, including the possibility of some funding to help pay for bear-resistant receptacles.
Kantor said the only thing she knew of was “that woman from the state wanting us to buy a bunch of bear-proof trash cans. It would cost a ton of money. As far as I know, we’re not going anywhere with that.” She did not have an estimate of how much the containers would cost.
Strepina confirmed she was “that woman.”
“Our message to Lee County is this: There is an increasing bear problem, which we expect to get worse,” Morse said. “We are more than willing to try to aid them in trying to find a solution to the problem.”
And that goes for anyone needing assistance.
Last month, residents of Bella Terra, a gated community east of Interstate 75 and along Corkscrew Road, were greeted by a Florida black bear; it was seen eating from garbage cans and stole a garbage bag that was on the curb and tried to run off with it.
A week later, six FWC officers and two Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies staked out Bella Terra waiting for the bear to come out for its breakfast. After several hours, the bear hadn’t appeared. They don’t know if it decided to find another place or if it will return next trash day.
In early September, a bear was spotted northwest of U.S. 41 and Highway 951 in East Naples.
“It’s been in the location of Lely Ole,” said Kathleen Smith, an FWC wildlife biologist in Naples. “The first time apparently someone did see it in a bag of garbage.”
The garbage was not in an enclosed can with something to hold the lid on. Also, the day before was Labor Day and trash collection is typically a day late after holidays. An FWC biologist and two Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded, but the bear was not found.
The second sighting was by a girl riding a bicycle and two people walking a dog. The three were startled by seeing the bear, but in all cases, the bear appeared to be afraid of humans, Smith said.
An e-mail to the Naples Daily News this week asked whether a small bear is in residence in the Holly Avenue area.
Smith says it’s possible the bear is the same one seen in early September.
FWC has sent personnel out to the specific areas where the animals have been spotted to give residents information about living with bears.
Residents received advice on how to secure garbage.
The week after the Bella Terra sighting on trash day, garbage lay strewn about, some in regular department store bags not even tied shut. Lids were not placed on cans and black bags littered the area like pinecones on a tree.
People need to get proactive to reduce the number of human-bear encounters, Morse said.
“These incidences are likely to increase over time,” he said. “The public needs to get on board to limit these human and bear encounters. The solution lies with the public.”
E-mail Valli Finney at firstname.lastname@example.org.