FWC says black bear population growing in SWFL, posing challenge to coexist

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Bear silhouettes atop the welcome sign to Golden Gate Estates in Collier County. Credit: WINK News.

Our population isn’t the only one rising in Southwest Florida. The black bear population is slowly increasing, and that means people and bears must co-exist.

We looked at what we can do to keep ourselves and our families safe while living near growing bear populations.

We reported about Kathleen Boyle’s bear attack experience near her home in Collier County while she was walking her two dogs Christmas Eve 2020. Her habits have changed a little bit since then.

“We look both directions before we set off,” Boyle said.

Boyle, her dogs and neighbors remain on high alert for bears.

“The neighbors are all very proactive about contacting each other,” Boyle said.

Her dogs’ physical injuries have healed, but they too are mentally on high alert after their bear encounter.

“One of the comedies had on a bear appearing on scene with two of the actors, and they jumped off the couch, went charging at the TV,” Boyle said.

Boyle later added, “Even if you’re not living near the Everglades or you’re not near a forest, we are living with the wildlife.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the black bear population is doing well.

“In the early 1970s, I think the populations were estimated to be about 300 bears for the state,” said Adam Brown, a public information officer with FWC. “Since then, that population has grown to well over 4,000.”

As the region continues to develop, it creates more obstacles for the survival of bears.

“The biggest threat to bears is loss of habitat, probably, and loss of areas to forage and to den,” Brown said.

That poses the challenge for people and bears to live together.

“Back bears have a sense of smell that’s seven times greater than a bloodhound,” said Tim Tetzlaff, the director of conservation at Naples Zoo. “So you can lure them out of the woods to your trash can or other tasty smells like a grill you forgot to clean.”

Safety is key. Boyle told us she and her neighbors have a call chain to let each other know if there’s a bear sighting. She stresses the importance of being aware of what’s happening in your community — from looking out for crushed-down bushes to knowing when garbage collection day is.

“Beware of what’s around you, and please do not go out if you have dogs,” Boyle warned. “Do not go out without a dog horn and some bear spray.”

MORE: FWC – Publicly Reported Black Bear Sightings

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