Friday, December 13, 2013

Hiking with Bears

I have spent many years outside, only seeing bears for the first time in the Florida in the outdoors a few years ago as a Boy Scout leader.  Florida bears have always run away from me, except for one confused one who ran towards me for a couple seconds, until he saw me and turned on a dime to run away.  He was gone before I could get a camera shot!  
I know a lot of people are nervous in Central Florida about being mauled by a bear, after what happened here a couple of weeks ago.  What appears to be a bear attack happened in Longwood, FL, near a popular hiking/bicycling trail and the Wekiva Springs State Park.  The event is still being investigated.
The people who are supposed to know, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, have a web site with much American Black Bear information.  Instead of paraphrasing what they say, I copied the text here and am providing a link to the FWC site so you can read their words and make a decision about bear safety for yourself.


What kind of bears are found in Florida?
Florida is home to only one kind of bear, the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus). The only species of bear found east of the Mississippi River is the American black bear.
How many bears are there in Florida?
In 2002, FWC estimated there to be between 2,500 to 3,000 bears statewide. Bears currently occupy 18 percent of their historic range in seven relatively isolated bear subpopulations. While some subpopulations appear to be doing well, others are clearly still recovering.
What do I do if I see a bear?
If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.
Do NOT feed or intentionally attract bears. If a bear eats something on your property, take note of what it is and secure Adobe PDF it once the bear leaves.
NEVER approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
If you are in your yard,
  • Make sure that you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.
  • Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or secure area.
  • Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
  • Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC.
Are black bears fast runners or good climbers?
Absolutely! Bears can run up to 35 miles per hour and climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds! Do NOT run or climb a tree when you encounter a bear.
  • Don't run. Running triggers a chase instinct in many animals, including bears. You can't outrun a bear.
  • Don't climb a tree. Bears are excellent tree climbers. Mother black bears often send their cubs up a tree when they sense danger. You don't want to end up in a tree with a couple of cubs above you and a mother bear below you! If a bear chases you, you'll just end up fending off a bear in a tree rather than on the ground.
Should I play dead with a black bear? (Short answer = no)
Don't 'play dead' or turn your back on the bear. Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route. Stop and hold your ground if your movement away seems to irritate instead of calm the bear.
If a bear feels threatened, they may clacking their teeth together External Website, moan, blow, huff, or paw the ground. The bear is showing you that it is as uncomfortable with the situation as you are. These are not indications of aggressive intent or an imminent attack. Truly predatory or aggressive black bears are eerily silent.
What do I do if the bear stands up on its hind legs?
If the bear stands up, this is NOT an aggressive behavior. The bear is only trying to see you better to figure out what you are and assess whether or not you are a threat.
Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route.
What do I do if a bear comes towards me or attacks?
If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you, they are trying to scare you off. If you stand your ground, the bear will likely stop and move away.
No matter what happens, do not run away. Continue slowly backing away, talking and holding up your arms. The bear may charge or vocalize several times until he is comfortable turning his back on you and leaving.
While there have been no predatory bear attacks on people in Florida, people have been bitten and scratched by bears defending themselves, cubs, or food sources. If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively. People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks, or even their bare hands!
Bears are wild animals and must be respected. Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm humans. Do not take unnecessary risks!
What can I do to protect my property?
Living with Bears Not a Mobile-Enabled Link. Here, we provide a wealth of information on how to protect your property, family, yourself, and the bears.
Is it ever legal to kill a bear in Florida?
Bears are protected by the Bear Conservation Rule Adobe PDF, which states it is illegal to injure, shoot, or kill bears in Florida.  The only applicable defense to illegally take or attempt take of a bear is the Common Law Defense of Necessity.  The defense is limited to the following circumstances:
  1. the defendant reasonably believed that his or her action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself or others;
  2. the defendant did not intentionally or recklessly place himself or herself in a situation in which it would be probable that he or she would be forced to choose the criminal conduct;
  3. there existed no other adequate means to avoid the threatened harm except the criminal conduct;
  4. the harm sought to be avoided was more egregious than the criminal conduct perpetrated to avoid it; and
  5. the defendant ceased the criminal conduct as soon as the necessity or apparent necessity for it ended.

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