The Florida black bear was removed from the Florida state endangered species list on Friday, a step forward in the recovery of this unique animal.
A subspecies of the American black bear, the Florida black bear population dropped to 300-500 individuals in the 1940s and 50s due to habitat loss, development and excessive hunting. But thanks to improved land management and a serious recovery effort over the past few decades, the population has recovered to between 2,500 and 3,000 bears in total in the state of Florida.
Florida black bears exist in several sub-populations in the state, with 1,000 bears in the largest population and 20 or so in the smallest. The smaller, isolated sub-populations are a concern as habitat fragmentation and development increases in Florida. These bears are wide-ranging animals that travel far to find food, shelter, and mates. That’s why wildlife corridors-natural pathways that link bear habitat areas- are essential to bear conservation.
Defenders of Wildlife established a Florida black bear conservation initiative in 1994 with the Habitat for Bears Campaign, and has since worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on long-term plans for managing and connecting bear habitat throughout the state.
While delisting is a marker of success, the species still needs careful stewardship to ensure that it keeps thriving. As development increases, so do conflicts between bears and communities. Public education about bear-proofing trash cans and preventing dangerous encounters is vital to the safety of bears, people and pets. Continued conservation measures are also needed to ensure the smaller bear sub-populations grow to a sustainable size.
The Florida black bear still has a ways to go before we can say that its recovery is complete, but the delisting is a great sign that this species is on its way. Defenders of Wildlife is proud to have made a significant contribution to the recovery effort for this special bear.