Florida black bear facts

An anesthetized Florida black bear waits to receive a GPS collar that will inform researchers about its landscape movements and habitat conservation needs. Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.

• The Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) is one of 16 recognized subspecies of the American black bear.

• Approximately 80 percent of the natural bear foods in Florida are plant material. Insects make up around 15 percent of diets. The remaining 5 percent is animal matter such as raccoons, opossums, armadillos, white-tailed deer and occasionally livestock. Most animal matter comes from scavenging rather than active predation.

• Reproductive females enter winter dens in mid to late December and emerge in early to mid April after a mean denning period of 100 to 113 days. Cubs stay with their mothers and may den with her the following year. Family dissolution usually occurs between May and July when cubs are 15 to 17 months old.

• Prescribed fires in the late spring and summer growing seasons, rather than winter burning, helps bears. Because mothers and cubs are in dens through April, winter fires can kill cubs and burn up important foods bears need after denning.

• Adult bears are solitary, reclusive and live at relatively low densities over large landscapes.

• Male bear home ranges are much larger than female ranges.

• Securing trash and other human food sources in communities near bear habitat is the most effective way to avoid conflict with bears and prevent bears from being euthanized.

• Bears currently occupy 31 percent of their historic range and only occupied 17 percent in 1993.

• Bears are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation because of their low numbers, low densities and large home ranges.

• Black bears are recognized as an umbrella species, a species whose habitat requirements encompass those of many other species. Given the large area requirements of bears and the diversity of habitats they use, many species are protected under the umbrella of bear conservation.

• Currently 32 of the 41 states with resident black bear populations have a regulated hunting season.

• An average of 248 bears have been killed by vehicle collisions each year since 2012.

• Wildlife underpasses beneath roads work to connect bear habitats and prevent vehicle collisions.

• For conflicts with people, more than 80 bears have been euthanized by FWC so far in 2015.

• Nearly half the state of Florida, 16,706,172 acres, is potential bear habitat.

Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and FWC Bear Management Plan

Carlton Ward Jr. is an eighth-generation Floridian and National Geographic Explorer focused on wild Florida. His photographs are published widely and available through CarltonWard.com and select galleries. Ward is the Rolex 2015 artist-in-residence of the Explorers Club and a leader of Florida Wildlife Corridor project, working to connect a statewide network of protected lands and waters. Read more at FloridaWildlifeCorridor.org and follow Ward on Instagram and Twitter

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Meet the Author
Carlton Ward Jr is a conservation photographer and eighth generation Floridian currently focused on the story of the Florida panther and the habitat protection needed to protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor.