As our temperatures warm up and the wildflowers start blooming, the bears come out of hiding. Cubs are born in January and February, which means mother bear is foraging and looking to defend her cubs.
You can encounter a bear any time of year in Florida. Since it doesn’t get especially cold here for a bear, they don’t truly hibernate, but they do settle down in a den during the winter, especially those pregnant females. But once they start moving, they keep moving.
As bears become active after their brief period of downtime, they are looking for food. That includes food in your pack, food in your tent, food in your truck or car, and food in your yard. Coolers, garbage cans, pet food, and bird feeders are all targets. We knew someone whose screen room was torn apart by a bear going for the dog food out by the back door. In general you should keep food sources secure from wildlife, but this time of year – from late winter through spring – especially so.
For the second year in a row, the US Forest Service has shut down the Juniper Prairie Wilderness due to bear activity. Both times, the triggering event was a bear getting into a backpacker’s tent at Hidden Pond, looking for food. Already heavily impacted by use, Hidden Pond is now officially a no-camping zone. But it only takes a drive in to other camping areas that see heavy use in the winter, like Shanty Pond, to see that bear conflicts aren’t going away soon when campers leave garbage where bears can tear into it.
It’s not new news that the National Forests in Florida require backpackers to use a bear bag or a bear canister. They issued that rule a decade ago. Unfortunately, unless you read one of our books or visited their website or ours, you wouldn’t know the rules.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Bearwise Program is funding local communities with high bear populations to upgrade their garbage cans to bear-proof ones, as the one seen in the photo above. They tested that particular design by putting it in the bear enclosure at the Tallahassee Museum to show that it couldn’t be opened. Is your community a part of the Bearwise program? If so, you can upgrade your trash cans for free. If not, consider investing in a bearproof trash can to discourage bears from hanging around your yard looking for a handout. Or build a bear-resistant shed to store your trash cans in. If bears can’t find food easily in your yard, they’ll look elsewhere.
Having conflicts with bears? Call one of the FWC’s five regional offices. Need to report someone harming bears or intentionally feeding them? Call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Learn more from FWC, including a guide to living in bear country.