Local governments have until Aug. 1 to apply for grants intended to reduce bear-human conflicts.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is making $500,000 in grants available for communities, with a preference going to those that have enacted “BearWise” ordinances requiring residents and businesses to bear-proof trash containers.
The Legislature designated the money for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The money, in part, is generated through the sale of “Conserve Wildlife” license plates.
The commission in 2015 held the state’s first bear hunt in more than two decades, with 304 bears killed. The commission has declined to hold another hunt, with the state providing the grants to try to prevent potentially dangerous encounters between humans and bears.
Because of revenue from permits for the bear hunt, the agency in 2016 was able to spread $825,000 through the BearWise program to 11 counties, three cities and two homeowners’ associations.
Last year, the commission had $515,283 available, which went to seven counties, a parks department, a homeowners’ association and a community for surviving spouses of retired military members.
The commission said the “BearWise” program has been used to buy more than 10,000 bear-resistant trash cans, 9,700 sets of hardware to secure regular trash cans, and 160 dumpsters 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 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.