OCALA, Fla. -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is urging residents to be "bear aware" to ensure that Florida black bears do not have easy access to human-provided food.
During autumn, bears begin eating 25,000 calories a day, storing fat in preparation for the winter, according to a release from the FWC.
"It takes a lot of acorns, berries, grass, insects and leaves to make 25,000 calories a day," said Mike Orlando, assistant bear program coordinator for the FWC. "But bears aren't fussy, and they are very smart. It's much easier and tastier to consume that many calories by eating food like garbage, pet food, livestock food and birdseed that people leave readily available."
Even though some people may not mind picking up after bears eating pet food kept outdoors or garbage, this could lead to bears entering a home and looking for more easy food, Orlando said.
"We've had three or four incidents in the past couple of years in our area where bears have bitten or scratched humans. Every single case involved human-provided food, and in the situations where we were able to catch the bear, we had to kill it," said Orlando.
Several motorists this weekend reported seeing a bear on the side of the road on Highway 19 in the Ocala National Forest. A biologist came to make sure the bear was OK, and it was eating acorns.
When the biologist made noise to try and make the bear move back into the forest, the bear crawled up into an oak tree and continued eating acorns.
If residents come across a bear in their yard, the FWC encourages residents to do what the biologist did; make noise to get the bear to move along -- yell, honk a horn, use noisemakers, etc.
Additionally, residents should also make sure to eliminate the possibility of bears obtaining easy access to food. Take down bird feeders; do not leave pet dishes or food outside; secure garbage cans.
"If you suspect or see a bear, it is your responsibility to implement a plan that will foil the bear's attempt to get easy food," Orlando said. "There are many proven methods available, and we're happy to talk to you about them."
People can call the FWC's Northeast Regional Office in Ocala at 352-732-1225 or check out many valuable tips and methods online at MyFWC.com/Bear.
First Coast News