Summer brings more rain to our trail systems and also more bear sightings, both on our game cameras and by hikers and visitors. It’s also the time of year that communities around the CREW Project border have more bear visitors.
With all of the summer bear activity, it’s a good time to debunk some common bear myths. We’re sharing a few from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and you can check out their full list by clicking the link at the bottom.
text source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Myth: Black bears are strict carnivores.
While the bear Family, Ursidae, is part of the Order Carnivora (Carnivores), the Florida black bear is more appropriately described as an omnivore, eating a diet composed of 80% vegetation (e.g., leaves, grasses, nuts, berries), 16% insects (e.g., bees, wasps, termites, ants), and 4% meat (e.g., carrion, opossum, armadillo). Bears will rarely try to chase down a large animal, such as an adult deer, for a meal, because it will result in a net loss of energy – a lot of energy used trying to catch the animal with very little chance of a successful catch, thus no energy gained.
Myth: It’s best to run away or climb a tree to escape a black bear.
Black bears have curved toe nails, naturally making them great climbers. They will commonly climb trees or send their cubs up a tree to escape a perceived danger. Nut bearing tree canopies, like oaks, are common places to find black bears feeding in the fall.
Black bears can run up to 30 mph. Running from any wild animal can also trigger a chase instinct, so it is best to back away slowly and find a secure location, like a vehicle or building.
Myth: Bears have terrible eyesight.
A bear’s eyesight is very similar to that of a human. They will stand up on their hind legs to get a better view of their surroundings. However, they rely heavily on their sense of smell. A bear’s sense of smell is considered the best of any land mammal, it is seven times better than that of a bloodhound and the part of their brain involved in smell is 6 times larger than the same part of a human’s brain. Smell is how a bear “sees” the world. Current research indicates black bears can pick up a scent over a mile away.
Myth: Bears can’t run downhill.
Black bears are quite capable of running downhill — fast. Black bears can run up to 30 mph over short distances. That’s faster than the fastest human – Usain Bolt, who can run up to 27 mph.
Myth: When a black bear stands on its hind legs, it is a sign of aggression.
When a black bear stands on its hind legs, it is trying to get a better view and/or smell of its surroundings. This stance is not aggressive in nature, nor is it an effective running gait. Bears that are challenging one another for dominance may sometimes stand on their hind legs to grab the other bear’s shoulders as part of the challenge process.
Myth: All black bears have only black fur and are huge.
Female Florida black bears are usually less than 200 pounds and males average about 350 pounds. Additionally, most black bears are black (like the name implies) but in some areas of Florida they can appear to be tan or brown in color due to the absence of their outer, black guard hairs. In other areas of North America, such as British Columbia, they can even be white. The Southeastern United States only has the species Ursus americanus (black bear), there are no Ursus arctos (brown bears), so if a bear appears brown in color it is still a black bear.
Myth: Relocating black bears is the best and easiest way to deal with a conflict bear.
FWC has found that relocating bears is not an effective strategy to reduce human-bear conflicts. In a recent study, almost 70% of relocated bears left the area where they were moved. Bears often leave the new areas because most places where bears can be moved already have resident bear populations, which can make it difficult for the relocated bear to remain. In addition, relocated bears often try to return to their original location. Those bears wander through unfamiliar areas and cross busy roads, creating a danger to the bear and to motorists.
Relocating bears also does not always stop their conflict behavior. FWC found that at least 50% of relocated bears exhibit conflict behavior again. In those cases, even if the bear stays where it was moved, all that has been done is a shift of the conflict issue to a new neighborhood. Most locations in Florida that experience bear conflicts are in bear range, and so even if FWC removed a bear that is visiting your neighborhood, the chance of another bear finding that same food source is very high.
Bears and other wildlife that linger in neighborhoods are a symptom of the problem of wildlife having easy access to human-provided foods. If the unsecured food source–garbage, compost piles, livestock, and pet/livestock/bird foods—are eliminated, the problem is eliminated. Bears will move out of the neighborhood to search out another food source.
For more information about FWC’s Bear Myths, visit myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear/living/myths/.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is holding three public meetings to get input on bear management in south Florida – including the area near and around CREW. The Florida black bear was taken off the endangered species list two years ago – a testament to the recovery efforts to save this umbrella species.
Now, southwest Florida is seeing an increase in human-bear encounters – which don’t always end up good for the bears. People and bears can co-exist, but human actions play an important role in how well that works. These public meetings will provide information on bears and opportunities for the public to make comments.
Come learn and get involved. Your voice and your actions will make a difference for bears in southwest Florida. Meetings in our area are:
- Naples – June 26
- Lehigh Acres – July 1
Download the full Bear Management Workshop flyer