TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Bear-proofing money from the state is going to seven counties, a parks department, a homeowners' association and a community for surviving spouses of retired U.S. Air Force enlistees.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Friday how it will spread $515,283 available this year in the “BearWise” program, which is intended to help purchase bear-resistant trash cans and strengthen existing containers.
The largest award will go to Seminole County, which is receiving $189,000 to purchase bear-resistant trash cans for residents in the western portion of the county.
Other counties getting money are Lake, Volusia, Highlands, Orange, Walton and Franklin.
Collier County Parks and Recreation is getting $3,675 to put bear-resistant trash cans in three county parks.
Holley by the Sea Improvement Association in Santa Rosa County will get $65,000 to modify 3,700 trash cans against bears. And the Air Force Enlisted Village will receive $7,700 to strengthen dumpsters in the Shalimar community near Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field.
Lawmakers approved $415,000 for the “BearWise” project this fiscal year, with an additional $100,000 coming from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida through the sale of “Conserve Wildlife” license plates.
A majority of the BearWise money requires communities to have ordinances aimed at residents and businesses keeping garbage secured from bears looking for food. The issue stems from bears going into neighborhoods in some areas of the state, creating the possibility of dangerous interactions with humans.
For the second consecutive year, the money is coming after the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted against holding a controversial bear hunt.
As part of a decision in April against holding a hunt, the commission wanted staff members to conclude work on 10-year bear management plan, which at the time was at least two years from completion.
The state held a hunt in 2015 that resulted in 304 bears being killed. With money available from permits sold for that hunt, the BearWise program awarded $825,000 in 2016 to 11 counties, three cities and two homeowners' associations.
Three Central Florida counties -- Seminole, Lake and Orange -- each received $200,000 in 2016.
Overall, the money was used to purchase 4,000 bear-resistant trash cans, 2,500 sets of hardware to secure regular trash cans and 40 dumpsters that were modified to keep bears out.
Roughly 4,000 black bears are estimated to live in Florida, from the forests of Southwest Florida through the Panhandle.
The current population is considered a success story, as the numbers had fallen to as low as 300 to 500 in the 1970s when bears were put on the state's list of threatened species. Bears were removed from the list in 2012.
But as the bear population has rebounded and more homes and businesses have been built in the animals' native habitats, incidents of human-bear interactions have grown.