The Florida black bear, a unique subspecies of the American black bear, once numbered an estimated 12,000 animals that roamed throughout Florida and into the southern portions of adjacent states.
The clearing of forest habitat for farming, housing and roads, coupled with excessive hunting, led to a steep decline in population. The bear population had fallen to as low as 300-500 in the 1940s and 1950s but, thanks to improved land management practices and significant conservation efforts over the last few decades, today the Florida black bear population is estimated to have grown to 2,500-3,000. On August 24, 2012, the Florida black bear was removed from the Florida state threatened species list.
Why They’re Important
The Florida black bear is an umbrella species, which means it uses large areas of various habitat types and many other animals and plants can benefit from its protection. Maintaining healthy bear populations is an important way to conserve the diversity of many other native species as well as healthy watersheds that provide essential resources such as drinking water. Additionally, wide-ranging bears may have a significant impact on plant distribution since they disperse seeds over large areas.
Each individual Florida black bear population needs a minimum of 500,000 to 1 million acres of area to find food, shelter, and mates, so habitat loss due to development is a major threat to their survival. The leading cause of bear deaths is car accidents—over the last five years, between 125 - 175 bears have been killed each year by vehicles. As Florida communities continue to grow and encroach on bear territory, and recovery efforts contribute to a rise in bear numbers, interactions with the animals are becoming more prevalent, often resulting in the death of the bear.
What Defenders Is Doing to Help Florida Black Bears
Defenders of Wildlife has been a leading advocate for black bear recovery. We established a Florida black bear conservation initiative in 1994 with the Habitat for Bears Campaign, and have since worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on long-term plans for managing and connecting bear habitat throughout the state. We also provide a variety of public education programs and resources, such as bear-resistant dumpsters, to help prevent human-bear conflicts.