70ºF

Family spots black bear on property 2 days in a row

Johnsons shocked to see 400-pound black bear on their St. Johns County property

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Members of a St. Johns County family could not believe their eyes when they saw a bear on their property two days in a row this week.

The sightings happened near County Road 210, just west of Interstate 95. 

The Johnson's property is pretty rural, with lots of woods, but the area has been developed over the years, along with C.R. 210, which has been expanded to six lanes. It's not a place where anyone would expect to see a bear. 

That's why the Johnsons said they're still shocked about seeing what they believe was about a 400-pound black bear. 

It's hard to know why a bear would leave his natural home. Maybe he was looking for food or maybe his source of water dried up. 

Either way, the Johnsons still didn't expect to see one in their yard.

"I've lived here 23 years, and never seen a bear -- ever," Kyle Johnson said. 

Johnson on Thursday showed News4Jax exactly where they saw the animal, lying down in the shade.

"Last night, he was over here in the open, in the front of the trail," he said. 

That was the second time they saw the bear. The first time, the animal left plenty of evidence: trash everywhere. 

"That makes it a little bit scarier because it was out in broad-daylight hours," Johnson said.

The family isn't sure what should be done about it.

"I mean if he keeps coming around, he should be caught, taken somewhere safe, not shot or anything," said Deanna Hoffman, Johnson's sister. 

Largely because of sightings, such as the one in Green Cove Springs last year, there is a lot of debate about whether to allow a bear hunt in Florida. 

State game commissioners, however, agreed last week not to hold a bear hunt for at least two years, over the objections of hunters who decried the delay as giving in to "bleeding hearts."

RELATED: State puts possible bear hunt on hold

Environmentalist Julie Watkins, who helped lead the battle to end the bear hunt, believes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made the right call. 

"Unfortunately, when we approve these hunts, again, we're just going out, reducing their numbers,"
said Watkins, the founder of Girls Gone Green. "But it's not reducing human-bear interaction."

According to wildlife officials, the black bear population has reached its highest point in 100 years. So as land continues to be developed, the chance that Florida residents will run into a bear increases. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pointing to the state's conservation efforts, also announced last week that the Florida black bear didn't warrant being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The bear hunt delay would allow staff members to complete an ongoing 10-year bear management plan that could be completed in two to three years, FWC officials said.


About the Author: