The Florida Black Bear: A Conservation Success Story

By: Kathy Barco, Chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
By: Kathy Barco, Chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Tallahassee, Florida - August 29, 2011 -

Kathy Barco, Chairman, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

This is my first column as Chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). I am honored and, frankly, humbled by the support of my fellow commissioners, our stakeholders and the Floridians this Commission works with every day. I thought it appropriate to start my conversation with you by sharing our success story of the FWC’s threatened species rule for Florida black bears.

In the early 1970s, Florida black bears dropped to their lowest numbers on record; estimates were as few as 300 bears statewide. Our predecessor agency, the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, stepped in and selected the Florida black bear as one of the first listed threatened species in 1974, adding more protection to bears and their habitat.

But adding bears to a list alone does not recover a species. The FWC and its partners identify important wildlife habitats and work with private landowners to keep those lands in conservation, whether through easements and agreements through our Landowner Assistance Program, or purchases through programs like Florida Forever. Statewide educational efforts teach thousands of people each year about bears and how to avoid conflicts. Formal education programs like The Florida Black Bear Curriculum Guide bring bear issues directly into the schools, and informal efforts occur through FWC staff time spent engaging the public at festivals and community events. The FWC passed a rule that made feeding bears illegal, allowing us to focus on the core cause of human-bear conflicts. All of those efforts have allowed us to bring the bear back to about 3,000 animals today.

In fall 2010, the FWC led a team of experts to review all the data available on Florida black bears to see if bears met the criteria to be considered at high risk of extinction. The team found that the bear no longer met those criteria, and five additional external species experts reviewed the report and agreed with the team’s recommendation to remove it from the threatened species list.

This June, I was proud to preside for the first time as Chairman of the Commission when FWC staff presented their recommendations on the bear and 60 other threatened species. As my colleague and former Chairman Rodney Barreto said, it was “a time to celebrate our success.” We have more bears in Florida now than we have had in the past seven decades, and the bear is well on its way to being removed from the threatened species list.

Our work to manage Florida’s black bear is a continuing process. A team of FWC staff has been working diligently with stakeholder groups to create a management plan for bears. We will be seeking public feedback on the plan this fall, and a revised plan is expected to be brought to the February 2012 Commission meeting. I look forward to reviewing the plan.

The bear’s success is an example of what our threatened species rule is designed to do: identify species that need our attention, act to conserve the species, and bring them back so that they will never be at risk of extinction again.

The FWC is known for seeking input from all points of view, and I hope my series of monthly columns provides the spark to begin or continue conversations concerning events and issues facing Florida conservationists.

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  • by hunter Location: Bradfordville on Aug 29, 2011 at 05:10 PM
    The FWC is to a great degree funded by sportsmen and women, who buy hunting and fishing licenses. Controlling and managing the population of game animals has proven over and over again to be good for both the hunter and hunted. The success of Florida's alligator program and the federal regulations on waterfowl have increased the population of those species throughout the country. Want more bears? Open a season, and sell tags to control the numbers of animals taken and let folks that want to hunt them.
  • by big shady Location: East 90 on Aug 29, 2011 at 12:40 PM
    Well rest assured there are plenty of bears in the state now. Time to open up a season on them.
  • by Bill Location: Tallahassee on Aug 29, 2011 at 11:18 AM
    Now that the Fl Game and Fish commision had agreed that there are 3,000 bears in our state of Florida its time to admitt that Bear hunting should be allowed start out with a few Bears from each region and only the mature male bears over a certain size weight be taken if a smaller Bear is taken have a fine so this money goes back toward the black bear sucess this should work in keeping there numbers under control .
  • by Red on Aug 29, 2011 at 10:24 AM
    Wow so another non hunter/fisherman on the board.. so when are they going to look out for the people and not the money!!!!!!
  • by Steve Location: Not in Marietta on Aug 29, 2011 at 09:52 AM
    When I was in Utah a couple of years ago, the DNR removed alligators from the list and reclassified them as "game." This after alligators in two different locations killed two women in lakes. For three years, these things are just-about as numerous as 'gators. Take a road trip on US-19 from the state line south to New Port Richey, on a Sunday night, or early Monday morning. The highway flanks the coastline, and is a major problem when these bears cross the thing, four lanes in the dark to hunt. Thanks.
    • reply
      by Etta on Aug 29, 2011 at 11:32 AM in reply to Steve
      You have a good point. That is where the fine line comes in and of course I do not have the answer.
  • by Etta Location: Tallahassee on Aug 29, 2011 at 09:36 AM
    As a woman I would not want a black bear in my back yard. But I have a lot of respect for the wild creatures God has given us and especially the black bear. They all play an important role in the earth environment. The problem is, including the Everglades, to many humans have moved into there territory.I don't know where you find the happy medium but for human and animal someone needs to find it. We need to preserve our wild life.
  • by yogi Location: jellystone park on Aug 29, 2011 at 08:00 AM
    I bet Ms. Kathy Barco wouldn't want a bear in her back yard like so many folks have to put up with.
    • reply
      by Sal on Aug 29, 2011 at 02:38 PM in reply to yogi
      Bears, gators, and all the other animals are not a problem or a danger to humans; it is exactly the other way around. We humans are the cruelest predators. With our overdevelopment and our greed, we have invaded and destroyed most of the habitats and cornered wild animals into ever smaller areas. Why don't we leave animals alone? Why don't we have any respect for Mother Nature and its creatures? Keeping bears numbers under control? No need for it. Mother Nature self-adjusts Herself if we just stop messing with it. What about keeping the Human population under control instead? Animal attacks are rare and usually are in defense of their cubs. On the other hand, gun-related violence in USA causes over 31,000 deaths per year. Additionally, there are over 23,000 accidental (fatal and non-fatal) gunshot injuries in USA every year, many of them caused by hunters. You hunters are so cruel and despicable. You look so ridiculous in your Rambo outfits. Animals are not the threat; you are the real threat to all of us.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Aug 29, 2011 at 05:30 PM in reply to Sal
        hey sal, the bear is a big problem when they start coming into peoples yards and killing their pets and livestock. You must have never witnessed an amimal killing another for food. If they are hungry, they will kill anything they think they can over power. Why do you think grizzlys attack people in yellow stone?? as for keeping the human population in check, why dont you start with yourself. Take yourself out of the population. We would all be better off without idiots like you. As for your qoutes on gun related deaths, remember that there is 1500 deaths from automobiles in this country for every 1 with a firearm. You just sound like every other anit gunner with the comments you are making here. You care nothing at all about the animals, its just another reason for you to spout your anti gun argument in a different way.
      • reply
        by Fed Up on Aug 29, 2011 at 05:59 PM in reply to Sal
        You're right, we might just need some human population control. Why not start with people who share stupid opinions like yours.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Aug 29, 2011 at 06:28 PM in reply to Sal
        If deer especially are not hunted they soon start starving to death from lack of resources since there are hardly any natural predators left to thin them. Use your head for something besides a hat rack.
      • reply
        by big shady on Aug 29, 2011 at 06:39 PM in reply to Sal
        WOW can you say "Hippie" ?
    • reply
      by dale on Aug 29, 2011 at 02:55 PM in reply to yogi
      Every time i've had a black bear in my yard, i've walked outside and said, "shoo." They left every time. Loose dogs are more of a problem.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Aug 29, 2011 at 05:32 PM in reply to dale
        be careful, one day you will go out and find a bear that isn't scared of you and will attack. most bears will run at the sight or smell of a human, but I have walked up on bears in the woods that refuse to leave. at those times, a nice slow backtrack and a loaded gun is a good thing to do. So far, backtracking has proved to be a good thing, but one day there may be a case of having to use the gun for protection.
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