By Erika Webb
Mike Orlando, a Florida Wildlife Commission bear biologist, made an impression last year when he took his can before the DeBary City Council -- his bear-proof garbage can, that is.
He returned to Debary Nov. 7 to talk to residents about bear behaviors and a program FWC is implementing with the City of DeBary and Waste Pro, the city's contracted garbage collection service.
Mr. Orlando said the state has $5,000 in seed money -- from its license plate program -- it will share with DeBary residents who want to purchase bear-proof cans. Troy Thomas, a route supervisor for Waste Pro, said the company is happy to service the cans.
Ten cans have already been placed in DeBary, Mr. Orlando said, citing a success story.
"The bear tussled with it for a little bit but the resident said he just left," Mr. Orlando said.
Bears are not being relocated for scattering garbage, he explained. There simply are not enough places to put them.
"There's no place where people don't live anymore," he said.
The FWC relocated one bear from DeBary to Ocala.
"Before we got to the end of Highbanks Road, the lady called and said two more bears were there. It's like I unplugged a dam," Mr. Orlando said. "A week later the (relocated) bear was back and the other bears left."
Last year, he said, the agency received 6,159 bear-related complaints, "2,000 more complaints than ever before."
Also in 2012, 284 bears were killed on Florida roads.
"That was really shocking to us," Mr. Orlando said. "I about had a nervous breakdown."
Urban sprawl, bears' lazy nature and astonishingly keen sense of smell are among the reasons the bear biologist gave for nuisance behavior plaguing residents all over Volusia County, the second highest for bear complaints in the state. Lake County is first.
Mr. Orlando made the usual recommendations:
Don't leave any food around -- no dog food, birdseed or garbage. Secure garbage cans inside a garage or other enclosure until collection morning. However, he said, bears are smart enough to learn when to expect the garbage and they'll come looking.
"We have bears timing the garbage pickup," Mr. Orlando said.
Electric fencing with a minimum of three strands, preferably four or five, is a good deterrent.
If confronted by a bear outside, make noise using a horn, pots and pans and/or a loud voice to scare them away.
He said to stay calm, pick up small kids and pets. Above all, don't run.
"Make yourself large and wave your arms aggressively," Mr. Orlando said.
He showed a video of a polar bear in Norway sent packing after being doused with bear spray -- the active ingredient in which is capsaicin -- from an atomized fogger.
"We're really promoting bear spray right now," he said. "We want you to be dominant over bears."
Appreciating them and even photographing them is fine, Mr. Orlando added, but let them know they are not welcome.
"(With) a fed bear the whole dynamic shifts," he explained. "Their behavior becomes more bold."
DeBary resident Sheri Brumback said she came home from work one evening to find a bear on her porch. Ms. Brumback said she drove away.
"What was he doing there?" Mr. Orlando asked.
"Just hanging out," Ms. Brumback said.
A couple from Glenwood attended the talk, eager to learn more about living with, and without, bears, and keeping their koi safe.
"Glenwood is a hot spot," Mr. Orlando said.
Tell Glenwood residents Mike and Gloria Fulton about it.
In a frustration-laced letter to County Council Chair Jason Davis, Mr. Fulton said he's repaired his horse fence numerous times after bears splintered it. He holds his breath each Monday morning waiting to see if his garbage can is still standing, and he and his wife don't feel safe walking from the outbuildings on their property to the house after dark.
Mr. Orlando made his rounds over the past few years, trying to teach citizens how to handle the encroachment and attempting to entice city and county officials throughout Central Florida to begin providing the "bear-proof" garbage cans that help deter the opportunistic animals.
Mr. Fulton, who has not received a response from Chair Davis, did not attend the talk in DeBary. He said he's heard it all before.
"I was told by the state wildlife to blow a whistle, shine a light but don't run as the cute little Black Bear is not aggressive yet, or I could put up an electric fence," Mr. Fulton wrote in the letter to the county chair. "The bears around here would be through the fence before the shock hit their fur."
Bear frustration is mounting all over Volusia.
For the past several years West Volusia residents, especially around DeLand, have been fighting a losing battle with the increasingly brazen black bears.
In 2011, using funds from the Conserve Wildlife license tag, FWC purchased 150 poly-carts to be used in a pilot program in Glenwood. Bear-resistant receptacles were delivered to residents from Lime to Lemon streets on the west side of Grand Avenue.
Mr. Orlando said the pilot study was very successful, a 95 percent bear problem in the area decreased to 5 percent early on.
However, he said, there are now problems with county-contracted Republic Services' grabbing apparatus breaking the cans.
"The new trucks are grabbing and crushing them," Mr. Orlando said.
Mr. Fulton does not deny the bears were here first. He does not disagree they are "cute." He would prefer they be cute somewhere else so he can resume feeling safe on his property and not have to see, or pick up, remnants of the weekly garbage-day explosion throughout his pretty, tree-lined neighborhood.
"Unless you are one of the chosen ones who live on the west side of Grand Avenue and are given a free bear-proof garbage can, you can count on picking up trash in the morning," he said. "There is an alternative, you can wake up just after daylight and get your garbage out before the truck comes, and you know everyone likes to get up early to take out the trash, or you can pay about $200 and get a bear proof trash can."
He'd like to see nuisance bears removed, relocated to non-residential areas.
But Mr. Orlando said any bear removal will be due to the animals posing a threat to humans, as in home entry.
"We almost always have to euthanize if we capture," he said, adding it's not very often bears pose a safety threat.
Mr. Fulton, whose home is east of Grand Avenue, was not part of the pilot study. He's grown weary of hearing suggestions, which, he said, don't work.
Such as: "The bears go where there is food, they are not aggressive, blow a horn, turn on a light, get an electric fence, keep dog food inside at night, empty bird feeders," he said. "I do know that part of the problem is people keeping their garbage out 24/7, that's where the county could come in and enforce the code."
Chair Davis echoed those suggestions in a phone interview, adding it's important to give bears a wide berth and advising people against walking their dogs at night.
He said he's done a lot of research on the Florida Black Bear. He had them in his yard when he lived in DeBary and he sees them now in Edgewater.
"Where do the black bears end?" Chair Davis said. "They end at the ocean."
He agreed with Mr. Orlando that relocating them to places in Lake County is not making a dent in the problem.
"They need a big territory, roughly 50 miles," Chair Davis said. "It would get too populated ... We've done a disservice by putting them there. Young bears get pushed away (by territorial older males) from mama."
And providing a bear-proof can to every resident would be a "very, very large expense" to the county.
Not only are the cans costly, Chair Davis said they also are difficult for humans to get into.
"If the garbage man can't get into them easily, the truck idles longer," he explained, noting time and gas ultimately cost the county money as well.
Volusia County Community Information Specialist Pat Kuehn said if residents in unincorporated Volusia wish to buy their own bear-proof cans, Republic will service them.
DeBary residents may buy the cans for $100 until the seed money runs out, Mr. Orlando said. He gave high praise to the city for working toward a solution.
"I'm working on Orange City," he said.
Mr. Fulton said he hasn't found much available in the cooperation department.
"A call to the county, other than Pat Patterson, falls on deaf ears, a call to the Florida game commission you might as well spit in the wind," Mr. Fulton said.
But Mr. Orlando said FWC truly cares about the problem and state employees are doing everything they can to help frustrated residents.
"There's a lotta people and a lot more bears," he said.
The FWC number to call for help, including guidance for installation of electric fencing. is (352) 732-1225.