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Q and A: I have a black bear that is foraging near my remote home and would like to know if there is anything I can do to prevent it from traveling onto I-75 which runs behind my property?

from M.B., Naples

The Florida Black Bear has long been of interest to people. This subspecies of the more northern-ranging black bear (Ursus americanus) is only found in our state. Most people are familiar with bears (i.e. Smokey and the Teddy variety) but few know the facts about bear ecology. As with all wildlife, the best thing to do is to leave the bear alone. However, a management approach is the key to protecting the bear in the future.

Black bears do not have uniformly black fur. Often, bears have a brown muzzle and some may have a small patch of white near the throat. Black bears are the smallest of the North American Bears. The Florida Black Bear is somewhat smaller than its northern relatives. The average length is five feet and adult females average two hundred pounds, while the males average three hundred pounds. This is amazing considering young bear (cub) weighs only one pound at birth. Males are known as boars and females are known as sows.

Black bears are territorial and solitary, except during mating season. History and folk tales have emphasized that bears have aggressive dispositions, but without good reason. Bears, like most other creatures are aggressive when threatened, sick, or protecting cubs. The display is usually just that, as retreat is the most common method for a bear to deal with a threatening situation. Florida bears do not hibernate, but they may sleep intermittently through cool winter months. When active, these bears tend to be nocturnal and have a home range or twenty or more miles in diameter. Therefore, it is almost impossible to prevent a bear from roaming or to keep it on your property. The Florida Black Bear prefers forested areas with dense understory vegetation. Thick, impenetrable swamps are ideal. This is why the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has been a great place to see bears.

Bears are omnivorous (eat plants and meat) needing an average of eleven to eighteen pounds of food each day. Any succulent, nutritious vegetation is subject to being eaten. Most of these are eaten seasonally and include tubers, bulbs, berries, nuts, and young shoots. The honeybee is the most frequently eaten insect and armadillos are the most commonly eaten vertebrates.

The future of the Florida Black Bear is dependent on the preservation and management of habitat. Proper habitat management is necessary to satisfy the black bear’s varied diet. This would allow for a high diversity of plants. However, over time, wilderness has been disappearing. Timber harvesting, drainage, and real estate development have greatly reduced black bear habitat. Management is also needed to reduce the number of road-killed bears. Recommendations that may help prevent bears from crossing highways include fencing constructed parallel to the roadway, and underpasses (or wildlife corridors) where bears regularly cross roads. (Both have been done along Alligator Alley/I-75). Signs should be placed along highways to alert drivers of areas where the potential for animal-vehicle collision is greatest.

If a bear is frequenting your property, it may help to contact the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission; they may be monitoring the bear. In the case presented here, an electric fence (like those used to keep bears from raiding apiaries for honey) may be reasonable to put along the back of the property before the highway. If this is reasonable, make sure to ask for technical guidance from the Commission because they offer excellent construction tips.