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ESTATES LOCAL������������������������������������������������ The last bear count in September 2016, recorded 4,030 bears statewide, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Here in South Florida, the numbers climbed to 1,035, which is up 47 percent from 2002. Male black bears can weigh between 250 and 600 pounds, while females average around 200 pounds. Males live to be 15 to 25 years old, while females live almost twice as long, averaging a 30-year life span. Only about two-thirds of the cubs born each year survive. State wildlife experts say Collier County is one of the most heavily bear-populated areas in Florida. While bears can be found almost anywhere in Florida, they prefer a mixture of flatwoods, swamps, scrub oak ridges and hammock habitats, all readily available real estate in Collier County. Around 80 percent of a black bear’s diet comes from plants, such as fruits, nuts, berries, 15 percent come from insects, such as termites, ants and yellow jackets. Just 5 percent of the bear’s diet is made up of meat, including opossums and armadillos. Estates residents need to understand that having bears in the neighborhood is not necessarily a threat to a community. Understanding that bears are wild animals and should be respected is a good first step. You may have heard, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” In a rural area, such as the Estates, some residents have been known to feed the bears. The bears become accustomed to feeding and become a nuisance to the surrounding neighborhood. Roads off DeSoto Boulevard were bear-traveled in recent months where they foraged in trash bins left unsecured. Bears can eat triple the amount of calories they normally consume daily by lunching on trash left outside homes. State authorities warn homeowners that there is much they can do on their own to keep the peace. “FWC reviews reports of human-bear conflicts to determine the best course of action to resolve the specific issue,’’ said Carli Segelson, FWC public information coordinator. “In many instances, the conflict can be remedied by securing items that attract bears into neighborhoods like unsecured garbage, pet food, bird seed or small livestock.” When FWC receives multiple reports from any area, officers may canvas areas to alert residents of recent bear activity and explain how to avoid conflicts. FWC can also provide loaner equipment that can assist with deterring bears, including bear resistant trash cans and electric fencing. If the report indicates potential risk to human safety, FWC will respond to the scene to assess the situation, which may result in setting a trap. Black bears are wary of humans so ignoring the bear is often the best move. Steve Gafford, an Estates bear activist says: “The balance of nature assures that there aren’t too many bears, as long as they only eat natural foods. Their caloric intake from a strictly natural diet will result in fewer cubs in lean years, and more cubs in bountiful years. Bears with access to garbage will multiply every year as if resources were bountiful, and as of they are the only bear in a territory, resulting in more offspring, higher cub survival rates, and eventually overpopulation.” The recent controversial bear hunt, the first in two decades, lessened the bear population by 22 in Southwest Florida, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While some Estates residents favored the hunt as a way to decrease the growing bear > 9


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