Local News

Bear sightings increase in Highlands County

— As Bam Bam Ammons looked out his back window in Highland Park Estates Tuesday, he saw what he says is increasingly common on his property, a black bear.

It was within the last few days, he said, that when he prepared to leave for work, he saw a bear at the end of his driveway.

“It (the bear) turned and ran,” he said.

Ammons is by far not the only person to have seen a bear during the few days. There’s also been bears seen in Highlands Hammock State Park and near Lake Jackson.

At the park, “we’re having a bear sighting every three to five days,” said Brian Pinson, manager.

Recently, he said, that involved a possibly uneasy encounter between two families. A mother and two children were walking near the entrance when the mother heard a noise, he said.

Then they heard a noise and stopped, he said.

After stopping they saw a bear run across a street followed by its two cubs, Pinson said.

Pinson said the bears are migrating through the park.

“We don’t think they reside all year in the park,” he said.

Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said such sightings will continue to increase, as both the human and bear populations head in that direction.

Morse said that he suspects the bear population is increasing because of good conservation efforts. If the number of bears was reduced, that wouldn’t eliminate encounters between humans and bears, he said.

FWC statistics on the web show that in 1990 statewide, the FWC got 99 calls about bears. That increased to 1,143 in 2000 and last year the highest number, 6,667 was tallied since 1990.

“Bears and humans will continue to come in contact with increasing frequency,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean that humans should become scared to leave their homes. Bears are naturally afraid of humans and in the vast majority of situations will leave rather than pose a threat, Morse said.

At Highlands Hammock, there’s been no reported bear attacks on humans since the park opened during the 1930s, Pinson said.

When visiting Highlands Hammock, people may hear loud noises, Pinson said. That’s because the staff is instructed to make such sounds so that bears will want to leave the park, he said.

The idea “is to make it as unpleasant as possible for bears every time they see a human,” he added.

Someone walking along a trail in the park should make noise so there will be less chance of a surprise encounter with a bear, he said.

One of the keys to reducing human and bear encounters is for people to not leave food out and to put garbage cans outside the morning of pickup, Morse said.

Ammons said he puts his garbage out in the morning, but the bears come every morning of garbage pickup, he said. It would cost $60 to get a bear-proof garbage can, he said.

Should people come in contact with bears, the FWC advises that people remain standing upright and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.

People should avoid eye contact with the bear and back up slowly, but stop if that appears to irritate the bear, he said.

The FWC tells people to not run, make sudden movements, climb a tree or play dead.


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