Defenders in Action: Preventing Conflicts Between Bears and People

As Florida’s population has grown, communities have expanded into black bear territory, resulting in more interactions between bears and people. Unfortunately, these interactions too often end up with the bear being killed. Defenders has several programs in place to help keep people—and bears—safe.

The Problem

When bears detect easy sources of food, they keep moving until they find it—often in people’s backyards. Garbage that isn’t securely stored, uneaten pet food left outdoors and even dirty barbecue grills can attract bears into urban and suburban neighborhoods.

How We're Helping

By 2000, Defenders was helping fund bear-resistant dumpsters at Florida state parks, restaurants and residential areas. When bears can no longer access garbage, they quickly move on to try to find more accessible sources of food.

In 1999, Defenders initiated the annual Florida Black Bear Festival in Umatilla to help people learn about the value of black bears and how to live responsibly in bear country. Our festival partners, including the City of Umatilla, Umatilla Chamber of Commerce, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), U.S. Forest Service and others, present this family-friendly event each March. Thousands of people join us for a day full of field trips to the Ocala National Forest, bus tours on the Black Bear Scenic Byway, music, food, arts and crafts, educational activities and more. Then, in 2008, we built on this success by helping organize the Forgotten Coast Black Bear Festival in Carrabelle in the Panhandle, with the City of Carrabelle, FWC, Florida Forest Service and other partners.

We also work with FWC, the Forest Service, and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida to promote the “Bear Your Responsibility” campaign to encourage people to take common-sense measures that will help keep wildlife wild.

Where We Are Today

Since 2000, Defenders has purchased or shared the costs to purchase 15 dumpsters in central Florida and the Panhandle. Bear biologists with the Florida Wildlife Commission report that bear foraging have stopped at the sites where we had helped fund the dumpsters.