The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has completed a years-long count of the state’s black bear population. Director of Habitat and Species Conservation, Thomas Eason says the population has grown by about 60-percent state-wide since the agency’s last estimates.
“The take home message is bears are abundant in Florida and they’re one of our greatest success stories from a conservation perspective here in Florida,” Eason says.
In the East Panhandle, which Eason defines as the area surrounding the Apalachicola National Forest, the bear population has grown by 89 percent since the state’s 2002 estimates to total 1,080 adult bears.
Eason says the population in the West Panhandle has grown by 75 percent, for a total of 140 bears in that area.
The FWC estimates 620 bears live in the state’s North Bear Management Unit. 1,230 bears live in Central Florida and 1,150 live in South Florida.
Eason says those numbers come from what he calls “cutting edge, scientific estimates.” He says to get that, scientists install barbed wire corrals in forests where bears live. They put bait in those corrals and as bears come in and out, some of their hair gets stuck on that barbed wire.
“We then collect those hair samples from the barbed wire over the summer, and then send them to a genetics lab. And similar to what you see on TV with CSI and other kinds of newfangled genetic approaches, that lab can tell us the sex as well as the individual identity of those bears,” Eason says.
Eason says the numbers stem from samples scientists collected before a controversial bear hunt last year. About 300 bears were culled in the hunt. Officials say the it was part of a plan to maintain the bear population. Eason says his team has not yet made a recommendation on whether a hunt should be held again this year.