By Erika Webb
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials are not opposed to commencing a "season" on bears, but are trying to be sensitive to public opinion.
"Biologically we'd be able to sustain a bear hunt," said FWC Assistant Bear Program Coordinator Mike Orlando. "Socially we're not so sure. It's really a social issue at this point."
The bear biologist spoke April 23 to a room filled mostly with Glenwood residents at the DeLand Regional Library.
For the past several years, he's been making rounds in Central Florida to educate citizens about his favorite species and the perils that accompany voluntarily and involuntarily attracting the animals with food.
Recent attacks -- in December and April -- on humans in Seminole County changed the typical flavor of his lecture.
"She didn't do anything wrong," Mr. Orlando said of the most recent victim. "Why that bear turned on her I have no idea."
He showed a slide depicting the densely wooded area bordering Wekiwa Springs Road in the vicinity of the subdivision where Terri Frana lives and was attacked April 12.
The picture makes clear the thin line that exists in many areas of Central Florida between wilderness and civilization -- urban sprawl into historically remote areas.
"Bears in the last five years have pushed back," Mr. Orlando said. "They can't read signs."
He explained the fruitlessness of relocation.
"There are no remote places to put bears," he said, adding there are around 50,000 people near the Ocala Forest in places like Paisely, Salt Springs and other communities.
"Those people don't want your bears any more than you want your bears," he said.
With their extremely keen sense of smell -- up to 10 or 15 miles -- bears taken to Ocala can smell the St. Johns River and easily return to Volusia County from there, Mr. Orlando explained.
He said it costs FWC around $1,000 per animal to relocate bears, and typically where there is one, there are several more waiting in the wings to get at residents' garbage.
Recently he constructed a garbage can caddy for a Glenwood resident who doesn't have a garage. Mr. Orlando showed his library audience film of three different bears over the course of six nights sniffing around the secured wooden enclosure. None were able to dismantle it and each moved on fairly quickly in the face of defeat.
"Garbage is the biggest attractant," Mr. Orlando said. "Anything that attracts dogs, cats and raccoons, will attract bears."
That includes birdseed.
Whether retrofitting garbage cans or securing them in garages or locked sheds until trash day, residents are advised to do whatever it takes to keep easy pickings out of the bears' reach.
"There's plenty of food in the forest," Mr. Orlando said. "Bears are lazy. Bears do the same thing as humans who drive to McDonald's and order the No. 5. They take the path of least resistance."
The bear-resistant garbage cans have "proven lots of times in lots of places" to deter the enormous scavengers, he said.
Mr. Orlando maintained it's not in a black bear's nature to attack most animals or humans.
It's a matter of understanding the terms habituation and food conditioned.
A habituated bear has grown accustomed to being in close proximity to people -- not necessarily bad, he said.
A bear that associates people with food is food conditioned and that's bad, he added.
The worst is a bear that is food conditioned and habituated -- "has made a strong positive association with houses/people and is no longer afraid to approach under all but the most stressful conditions to the bear -- very, very bad," Mr. Orlando explained.
Bears that are both food conditioned and habituated almost always are killed, not necessarily by FWC.
Agency employees have found bears in the Ocala Forest dead because they were "clogged up with plastic," he said.
Other mortality sources have included bear-vehicle collisions and aggravated humans.
Simply put, proximity equals probability of trouble..
Mr. Orlando cited the FWC bumper sticker with its sobering message: A fed bear is a dead bear.
Glenwood resident Jim Beck spoke to Volusia County Council members April 17 about what he's considering feeding bears: Louisiana Hot Sauce.
"Quite frankly, I don't know the solution to what you're going to do," Mr. Beck said. "My mission is to keep someone from getting killed, especially the children."
He told council members he does not intend to keep his garbage in the garage because the bears will bang on it, trying to get in. He said one neighbor told him a bear was staring into the kitchen window and another told him she tried to exit her garage, saw a bear and ran back in.
"These are things that are not getting out to the public," Mr. Beck said.
Crossing through the yard is OK for bears, Mr. Orlando said. Stopping for something borders on nuisance behavior.
Whether it's garbage, birdseed or even water in a birdbath, he suggests removing the attractant in order to de-entice bears.
Because the Longwood-area attacks are still being investigated by the agency, Mr. Orlando said he couldn't say too much but he said after the most recent incident law enforcement officers were standing in a circle and one of the bears came out of the woods getting within 10 feet of an officer. The officer shot the bear to prevent injury to himself, Mr. Orlando said.
"That's not normal bear behavior," he said. "It was really a somewhat scary situation."
Mr. Beck and his neighbors do not want a repeat in their neck of the woods.
"I would really hope that ya'll would get together and either get a committee or get somebody and figure out a solution. Louisiana hot sauce?" he said. "Get rid of them. I tell ya, they talk about ammonia, that doesn't work."
Mr. Orlando said ammonia sprayed around garbage cans works better than bleach, which, he said, really doesn't faze bears at all. He implored people not to chance mixing the two.
If one person sprays bleach and another applies ammonia around garbage cans in close proximity to each other, the combination will produce a toxic result, he explained.
Electric fences around livestock or any food source, such as fruit trees or gardens, are very effective at keeping bears away. Banging pots and pans, sounding air horns and even setting off firecrackers should turn them back as well, he said.
Even some lawn watering devices work.
"Scarecrow water sprinklers ... let me tell you, if you want neighbors off your lawn ... are brilliant," he said, adding New Smyrna Beach residents are using them to keep sea gulls out of their yards.
Roxanne McTeague, a Pierson resident, said she's planting olive trees in the wake of citrus greening threatening her orange trees. She wondered if bears like to eat olives.
While he knows they aren't crazy about any type of citrus, Mr. Orlando asked Ms. McTeague to keep him posted on olive appeal.
If all else fails, residents are being advised to contact FWC and the agency will deploy area law enforcement officers trained in "hazing" techniques -- shooting bears with non-lethal devices emitting paintballs and bean bag rounds, Mr. Orlando said.
The number to call is (352) 732-1225.
Most importantly, Mr. Orlando said, "Keep them wild, don't love them death."