Sightings of black bears are rare in Pinellas County. This is how officials treat them.

The black bear was first sighted in Hernando County. Then near a recreation center in Clearwater. When he was seen at Philippe Park in Safety Harbor earlier this week, authorities closed the park for two and a half days.

Authorities did not attempt to trap or move the bear, but just let it out of the area and eventually settle in a more bear-friendly environment. The last reported sightings of the bear were on Thursday, several kilometers from the park.

All of this begs the question: How do authorities deal with a bear that moves through a populated area and what is the reason for treating it that way?

The bear’s travels over the past week were nothing to worry about, according to bear experts. In general, black bears pass through urban areas without incident and eventually find their way back to the woods.

All wildlife officials usually do is watch their movements.

“Overall, I very rarely worry about what’s going on badly,” said Mike Orlando, deputy bear program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We don’t want people to panic.

The bear’s presence this week sparked a mixture of excitement and apprehension in residential areas and on social media, where someone started a Twitter account called Safety Harbor Bear.

The bear was not the first to cause a stir in the Tampa Bay area. In the past two years, Hillsborough County had six bear calls for fish and wildlife, while Pasco had nine. Sightings in densely populated Pinellas County are less frequent.

Bears can travel up to 10 miles in one night, Orlando said, making bear trapping impossible. If a bear lingers in an area for a few days, authorities can set a trap and attempt to move the animal.

“We rely heavily on feedback from residents and local police,” Orlando said. They want to make sure the animal moves away from densely populated urban areas and moves to a more bear-friendly environment.

Euthanasia is not an option unless the bear becomes a threat to public safety – for example, chasing or injuring a human, or breaking into a house. Even killing cattle doesn’t count as a threat to public safety, Orlando said, but rather as a property issue.

In more rural areas where the bear population is known, fish and wildlife would generally not move the animal, but would ask residents to secure their waste and take precautions.

“It’s a balancing act,” Orlando said.

In 2015, Florida allowed people to hunt black bears for the first time in more than two decades. However, hunting has not been authorized since and Governor Ron DeSantis increased the minimum fine for bear poaching last summer.

If you see a black bear, experts say you should walk backwards slowly and steadily while leaving an escape route for the animal and avoiding eye contact, the commission advises. Speak calmly to the bear. If he seems irritated, stop and stay in one place. Do not run, play dead, climb a tree, do not make sudden movements, do not approach or try to feed the bear.

In 2020, the Southwestern Office of the Fish and Wildlife Commission Office, which covers 12 counties from Hernando County to southern Lee County, received 500 calls reporting bears, up from 353 calls in the year. previous. As humans develop more areas, bear sightings are likely to increase and it is important to reserve areas for conservation, said Deby Cassill, professor of biology at the University of South Florida.

Typically, bears don’t cause humans a lot of trouble, Cassill said. The main sense of black bears is smell – their noses are seven times stronger than those of bloodhounds, Cassill said. With the soaps, laundry detergents, and deodorants that humans use, it’s not hard for bears to sniff out our noses.

“They are not killers,” she said. “They are just shy and avoid conflict.”

About Norman Griggs

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