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Bear roams neighborhood
Florida Black Bears like this one, found in the base housing area, are commonly seen on and around Eglin. While no documented attacks on humans ever occurred in the state of Florida, they are a large, wild animal that should not be provoked. If you do encounter a bear, use the following safety tips: remain standing upright, avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly, speak in a calm, assertive tone, make sure the bear has an escape route and do not run from the bear. If you see a bear in the housing area, call Jackson Guard at 882-4164, or security forces at 882-2502. (USAF photo/Kathy Gault)
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Bear roams neighborhood

Posted 6/24/2009   Updated 6/24/2009 Email story   Print story

    


by Mike Spaits
Team Eglin Public Affairs


6/24/2009 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Recent bear sightings in the Eglin family housing area has some residents concerned; and while it may sound cliché, the old saying "Don't feed the bears" is the rule to live by. Feeding bears is not advised and can be dangerous to you, the bear, your family and your pets.

Eglin wildlife management personnel have recorded a surge in Florida black bear movement in and around the Eglin reservation over the past several weeks and incidents of them roaming urban areas for food have increased.

Jackson Guard wildlife specialists say that mother bears usually run their juvenile male bears off in the fall, not summer, but with the hot and dry conditions, bears are coming out of the woods looking for water and food.

Bruce Hagedorn, Jackson Guard's wildlife section chief, points to the recent dry weather that has reduced the amount of available food for the black bear, which includes wild berries and oak acorns. As a result, the bears have ventured out beyond their usual range in search for food. Unfortunately, this has landed them in local residents' backyards and rummaging through their trashcans.

"We advise people to never feed the bears," Mr. Hagedorn said. "Feeding the bears causes them to lose their fear of humans and start associating humans with a food source."

Mr. Hagedorn suggested that anyone living near or on Eglin should be aware of other potential food sources around their property such as bird feeders, pet food bowls and garbage cans.

"If it can attract a raccoon, it can attract a bear, too." Mr. Hagedorn said.

A bear-human-food association is not the type of connection to a wild bear you want to have, Dennis Teague, a Jackson Guard endangered species biologist and nuisance wildlife specialist, said.

"Normally bears aren't aggressive and they don't want anything to do with humans, but it can be dangerous for both parties if they lose that fear," Mr. Teague said.

To date, there haven't been any documented cases of Florida black bear attacks on humans, but it's still an animal that should be respected and never confronted, Mr. Teague said. Adult black bears typically weigh 150 to 400 pounds, with the largest ever being recorded on Eglin at 440 pounds. The largest adult male black bear on record in the state of Florida is 624 pounds.

Previously, nuisance bears were captured by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission office and relocated deep in to the forest on Eglin reservation where it would hopefully establish a new area, Mr. Teague said. However, FFWCC is now focusing more efforts on educating residents who encounter bears on what measures they can take to prevent bears from becoming dependent on food sources around housing areas.

Jackson Guard has brochures available in their lobby to help make local residents aware of the black bear population on Eglin, which is estimated to be approximately 60 to 100 bears. Mr. Teague said that observing a bear in the wild is a rare occurrence and it can be a unique and rewarding experience if you observe the animal from a safe distance. You can also download most of these brochures from http://myfwc.com/bear/Brochures.htm.

Some of the FFWC's general tips on handling a bear encounter are:

· Do not feed the bear.
· Never approach the bear.
· Make sure the bear has an escape route.
· Do not run from the bear or make direct eye contact with it. Back up slowly and remain standing upright.
· Act passively. Do not appear threatening.

Jackson Guard is located along Highway 85 North in Niceville. Their phone number is (850) 882-4165 or 882-4166.

If you experience a nuisance bear on Eglin property, including family housing, contact security forces at 882-2502. If you live in the surrounding communities, you should contact the FWCC's 24-hour Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC.



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