When a rise in reported human and bear conflicts in 1999 threatened to give Florida black bears a bad rap, Defenders initiated the Annual Florida Black Bear Festival to teach the public ways to live responsibly in bear country. Twelve years later, they’re still at it – and the festival continues to be a fun, family-friendly atmosphere to educate Floridians about the importance of habitat protection and how they can live peacefully alongside the animals.
The Florida black bear once ranged throughout the Sunshine State and over the border into southern Georgia and Alabama. At one time numbering over 12,000, now only an estimated 2,500-3,000 bears remain in these states. Considered threatened by the state of Florida, habitat loss due to increased development and human-bear interactions continue to be major problems for the struggling species today.
Success in Umatilla!
Defenders is committed to protecting black bears. This March, our Florida staff and volunteers helped host more than 2,500 Floridians at the festival in Umatilla (known as the Gateway to the Ocala National Forest). And with field trips to the Ocala National Forest, bus tours on the Black Bear Scenic Byway, arts and crafts, local authors and artisans, short films about living in bear country, educational booths, live music, food and more – we kept our visitors busy! Thanks are deserved for all of our volunteers and partners who all worked very hard to make this year’s festival a success, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, The City of Umatilla, the Umatilla Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Forest Service. If you didn’t make it out this year, make sure you plan to check it out next year!
Living with Black Bears
If you are living in bear country there are some steps you can take to ensure bears do not come into trouble on your property:
- Keep human attractants away from bears, especially garbage
- Keep trash in bear-proof areas, like garbage containers or electric fencing
- Do not put trash out until the morning of pickup
- Do not feed pets outdoors
- Remove uneaten pet food immediately after feeding
- Bear-proof gardens and compost
- Remove wildlife feeders for a week or two if they are hit by bears
- Clean BBQ grills or keep them in bear-proof areas