With autumn approaching, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds residents and visitors that our state’s black bears are more active in search for food. You can help prevent negative interactions with bears and other wildlife by securing garbage, removing food attractants, and following other BearWise® practices.

Florida Black BearsDuring the fall, bears start consuming more calories to pack on fat reserves for the winter, even if they are not hibernating as they do in colder climates. Any accessible food source, such as unsecured garbage, pet food or bird seed, can be enticing to a hungry bear preparing for the winter, potentially drawing them into conflict with people.

“Adult bears need to take in approximately 20,000 calories a day during the fall,” said the FWC’s Bear Management Program Coordinator, David Telesco. “If given the opportunity, bears will take advantage of easy meals from things including unsecured trash cans and bird feeders. However, if bears don’t find a food source in a neighborhood, they’ll move on.”

You can avoid attracting bears to your neighborhood and help prevent negative interactions with bears and other wildlife by following these six BearWise Basics:

1: Never feed or approach bears

  • Feeding bears can make them lose their natural fear of people.
  • It is illegal in Florida to intentionally feed bears or leave out food or garbage that will attract bears and cause conflicts.
  • Getting close to a wild animal is dangerous.

2: Secure food and garbage

  • Store garbage in a sturdy shed or garage and then put it out on the morning of pickup rather than the night before.
  • If not stored in a secured building, modify your existing garbage can to make it more bear-resistant or use a bear-resistant container.
  • Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
  • Protect gardens, beehives, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
  • Pick ripe fruit from trees and bushes and remove fallen fruit from the ground.

3: Remove or secure bird feedersRemove bird feeders where bears are present.

  • If bird feeders are left up, only put enough food out for birds to finish eating before dark.
  • Use other options to attract birds, not bears.

4: Never leave pet food outdoorsFeed pets indoors.

  • If feeding pets outdoors, only put food outside for short time periods and bring in leftover food and dishes after each feeding.

5: Clean and store grillsClean and degrease grills and smokers after each use.

  • If mobile, store them in a secure shed or garage.

6: Alert neighbors to bear activity

  • If you see a bear, let your neighbors know.
  • Share tips on how to avoid conflicts with bears.
  • Encourage your homeowner’s association or local government to institute bylaws or ordinances to require trash be kept secure.

While black bears generally are not aggressive, they can injure people and pets. Dogs can trigger defensive behaviors from bears; 60% of incidents where bears injured people in Florida involved dogs. When walking dogs, keep them close to you – preferably on a non-retractable leash – and be aware of your surroundings.
Before letting your dog out at night, flip lights on and off and bang on the door to give bears and other wildlife a chance to flee.While bears can be found almost anywhere in Florida, they prefer a mixture of flatwoods, swamps, scrub oak ridges, bayheads and hammock habitats. The area they roam in search of food, water, and adequate cover is called a home range.

FWC encourages you to explore recent data on bear calls, bear mortality, and bear captures in the FWC Interactive Public Bear Map to learn about where bears can be found in Florida.

As bears increase their movements in search of food this time of year, they also increase the number of roads they cross. For the safety of yourself and bears, remember to slow down when driving, particularly on rural highways at dawn or dusk. Watch for road signage identifying known bear crossing areas.

Having conflicts with bears? Call one of the FWC’s five regional offices. Go to MyFWC.com/Contact, and click on “Contact Regional Offices” to find the phone number for your region. If you want to report someone who is either harming bears or intentionally feeding them, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

More information is available at MyFWC.com/Bear, where you can access the “Guide to Living in Bear Country” brochure. Find additional ways to be BearWise at BearWise.org. Help us help bears and other wildlife by purchasing the Conserve Wildlife tag at WildlifeFlorida.org/CWT.