Then and Now
Florida black bears once numbered an estimated 12,000, roaming throughout Florida and over the border into neighboring Georgia and Alabama. But as the human population has grown throughout the state, the ensuing increase in habitat loss, vehicle collisions, and human-bear interactions has reduced this number to an estimated 2,500-3,000 in nine sub-populations occupying only about a quarter of their original range.
Key Recovery Milestones
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC, then called the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission) listed the Florida black bear as threatened on the state’s list of imperiled species in 1974.
The bear was first petitioned for inclusion on the federal Endangered Species Act list of endangered and threatened species in 1990. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that listing was warranted but that other species that were at even greater risk would be listed first. Subsequent legal challenges by Defenders and partners to list the bear federally were unsuccessful. Defenders worked vigorously to stop further loss and fragmentation of the bear’s habitat and advocate for a comprehensive statewide conservation plan.
Thanks to conservation efforts by the state, Defenders of Wildlife and others, the Florida black bear was removed from the Florida state threatened species list on August 24, 2012 — a step forward in the recovery of this unique animal. 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.