Hernando bear sighting prompts safety reminder - WNCN: News, Weather

Hernando bear sighting prompts safety reminder

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The Sheriff's Office wants you to avoid run-ins with bears The Sheriff's Office wants you to avoid run-ins with bears
HERNANDO COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

A recent bear sighting in Spring Hill has prompted the Hernando Sheriff's Office and Florida Fish and WIldlife Conservation Commission to release a list of bear safety tips.

A bear was sighted near Alderwood Street in the Spring Hill area of Hernando County, where a known bear population exists along the coast.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office want residents to know what to do if they see a bear and how to avoid creating problems with one.

"Florida black bears are normally shy creatures that avoid people.  Fortunately, the avoidance behavior that bears typically exhibit helps both bears and people coexist without much fanfare," said Chad Allison, district biologist and bear specialist with the FWC.

Black bears are protected by law in Florida. According to the FWC, the bear population along the west coast, from Hernando County north, is the smallest subpopulation area in the state and most vulnerable to habitat loss - less space in which to forage and roam.

"If you come face-to-face with a bear, don't panic, don't look it in the eye, don't turn your back and run. Just move away slowly on an angle, making sure that the animal has an escape route. Bears are pretty calm animals and not looking to cause trouble," Allison added.

Florida black bears are active year-round, foraging wherever they can find food.

"However," Allison warned, "the normal behavior of bears can be short-circuited if people provide these animals with the opportunity to forage in and around their neighborhood."

When a bear learns there is easy access to food in a human neighborhood, often in unsecured trash, bird feeders or pet food left outside, it is apt to return repeatedly. In fact, once a successful pattern of securing regular meals in a human neighborhood has been established, the bear may learn that humans are not to be feared and that being near them has its rewards.

A bear that chronically returns to homes is not typically relocated because chances are high that the animal will continue to repeat the behavior no matter where it is. Worse, when cubs learn these feeding habits from their mother, they too, sadly, become victims of feeding opportunities they should not have - opportunities that put their lives in danger when human-bear conflicts arise.

The FWC cautions residents to eliminate feeding opportunities by storing garbage in a manner that denies bears access to it, or bears will repeatedly visit that neighborhood to obtain food.

The FWC recommends the following steps to prevent human-bear conflicts:

*Feed your pets indoors, or bring in dishes after feeding.

*Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container.

*Put household garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before.

*Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters consisting of metal lids or metal-reinforced plastic lids and lock bars.

*Clean barbecue grills and store them in a locked, secure place.

*Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.

*Protect gardens, apiaries, compost and livestock with electric fencing.

*Pick ripe fruit from trees, and remove fallen fruit from the ground.

*Encourage your homeowners association or local government to institute ordinances on keeping foods secure that would attract wildlife.

Ignoring these recommendations also greatly increases the chances that a bear and/or a motorist will be injured as the animal crosses neighborhood streets, looking for food.

Bears seen foraging in trash, pet food or other attractants, or bears that exhibit other destructive behavior, should be reported immediately to the FWC by calling the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 or, during regular working hours, the FWC's Lakeland Regional office at 863-648-3200.

If you would like more information on avoiding conflicts with bears, visit the FWC website, and click on the video titled "Living with Florida Black Bears."

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