Lawmaker seeks to reduce bear-human conflicts

A black bear seen running through neighborhoods off County Road 210 in St. Johns County was spotted in Julington Creek Plantation. (iShot News photo by Lynn Wade)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After a controversial bear-hunting season this fall, a Central Florida lawmaker Friday proposed a bill that calls for steps to reduce conflicts between black bears and humans.

The bill (SB 1096), sponsored by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, will be considered during the 2016 legislative session, which starts Jan. 12.

In part, it would create a state account with at least $50 million to help local governments buy bear-resistant garbage containers.

Cities and counties in bear-prone areas would be able to borrow money from the account to buy and distribute the containers to all residents in the areas.

The bill would take a series of other steps, such as changing schedules for controlled burns in state forests and state parks that include black-bear habitats.

The changes would be aimed at allowing the growth of oak trees, saw palmettos and other berry-producing plants that provide food for black bears.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this year allowed the state's first bear-hunting season in two decades. During the hunt in October, 304 bears were killed.

Some parts of the state have seen incidences of black bears coming into neighborhoods to get food out of garbage cans.

In a budget proposal released last month, Gov. Rick Scott called for setting aside $230,000 for bear-resistant trash cans and outreach programs to reduce conflicts between humans and bears,