Watch out for that bear!

State wildlife officials are advising motorists to watch out for hungry bears — on the road.

The latest video from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, designed to educate Floridians on how to avoid conflicts with black bears, focuses on what motorists can do to avoid driving into the path of the wandering creatures.

“Bears are most active around dusk and dawn, and therefore most vehicle-bear collisions happen during these times of day,” the commission noted. “To reduce the risk of hitting a bear, motorists should stay alert and drive cautiously around heavily wooded areas, roads with curves and areas marked with bear warning signs.”

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/235622570″>Vehicle Collisions with Bears</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/myfwc”>My FWC</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The video — “Collisions with Bears“ — specifically notes that motorists should take extra caution when traveling in or around the Ocala National Forest in Lake and Marion counties, where about half the incidents resulting in the death of a bear occur.

In 2016, the state recorded 231 bears killed by vehicles in Florida, down from 248 in 2015 and 245 in 2014. In 2012, when bears were removed from the state’s list of threatened species, 285 bears were killed on Florida’s roads. 

The state agency started rolling out the videos nearly a year ago as a means to help people get along with black bears in large part by teaching people how to avoid interacting with the lumbering animals.

The agency, which has backed down from bear hunts for the past few years, has $515,000 to match with local government funding to help people and businesses buy bear-resistant trash cans and hardware and to have modified dumpsters. The amount is down from $825,000 last year.

Roughly 4,000 black bears are estimated to live in Florida, from the forests of Southwest Florida through the Panhandle.

By Jim Turner.

Wildlife officials: Scare that bear!

Florida’s wildlife officials are using the movies to help people get along with black bears and also to keep away from backyards.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission released two videos aimed at educating residents about black bears, which have been a source of controversy over the past few years, and providing pointers about what to do if they have a face-to-face encounter with the lumbering creatures.

Some of the tips include a padlock to keep trash cans in a wooden cage off-limits to predators.

Others suggest using devices like the “Critter Gitter” — product placement? — that are activated when they detect a bear.

Of course, there’s always the old standard: Run.

The video doesn’t EXACTLY recommend running, but it does advise people to hightail it indoors or into a car, if possible, once a bear is spotted.

Once you’re safe, that’s the time to “scare the bear,” using whistles, car horns or pots and pans.

The 4- and 5- minute videos from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are part of  ongoing efforts to reduce conflicts between bears and humans.

One video, called “Bear Behavior,” addresses the habitat of bears and describes how to react when encountering a bear in the wild. Tips include speaking in an assertive voice and backing away slowly.

The other video, “Scare the Bear,” gets into when those bear behavior tips are not enough.

“It’s probably the opposite of what you might think,” the video states.

 If you see a bear from a safe distance, first get inside a secured location, make sure the bear has a clear escape route, and only then make some noise to let the bear know  you’re there, the video advises.

“The No. 1 cause of conflict with bears is unsecured trash and other attractants, such as pet food, barbecue grills and birdseed,” said Dave Telesco, who leads the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Bear Management Program. “As bears spend more time in neighborhoods, they begin to lose their natural fear of people, which can lead to dangerous encounters. These videos highlight steps that can be taken to ensure the safety of both bears and humans.”

 The agency, which has held off efforts to hold bear hunts the past couple of years, has $515,000 to match with local government funding to help people and businesses buy bear-resistant trash cans and hardware to secure regular trash cans and to have modified dumpsters. The amount is down from $825,000 last year.

Roughly 4,000 black bears are estimated to live in Florida, from the forests of Southwest Florida through the Panhandle.

By Jim Turner.

Florida cavalry? You bet (an expert’s opinion)!

image002Like much of the nation, we are mesmerized by the plight of Houstonians as the remnants of Harvey continue to wreak havoc on Texas.

Floodwaters continue to rise, levees are breached and an untold number of residents are awaiting rescue from boats, helicopters and high-water vehicles.

The worsening situation in Houston and neighboring areas comes on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall 12 years ago.

Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement that he had dispatched dozens of assets from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to the storm-torn region elicited a silent cheer from this reporter, who spent nearly two harrowing weeks in Biloxi covering Katrina’s devastating impacts more than a decade ago.

Scott’s office released the above photo of FWC officers apparently engaged in a rescue in Texas.

From the press release with the photo:

“Yesterday, nearly 100 FWC officers and nearly 40 boats deployed to Houston to support ongoing response efforts. This weekend, twenty-five FWC officers, 17 high water vehicles, two Mobile Command Centers, eight shallow draft vessels and four patrol boats arrived in Houston after being deployed by Governor Scott.”

In an earlier announcement regarding the deployment of the FWC folks westward, Scott said: “Floridians know first-hand how damaging a storm can be for families and communities and how important it is to have the support of nearby states during these challenging times.”

The announcements about the FWC resources — and the images of water-soaked Houston and wind-ravaged coastal towns like Rockport — brought to mind my experiences in Biloxi, after Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, slicing through bridges, tearing up city blocks, and cutting loose casino barges.

While much of the nation was focused on an escalating disaster in New Orleans — where thousands of people were trapped inside what was supposed to be a shelter — residents of Biloxi were largely forgotten.

They had no water and no electricity. Cell phone towers were splintered, so they had no way to communicate.

Working for The Palm Beach Post at the time, I was there when some of the residents who had evacuated made their way back to their beachfront community, only to find remnants of someone else’s belongings, from blocks away, jumbled amid the shards of what had once been their homes.

The recent images of journalists aiding in rescues in the Houston area reminded me of the morning my photographer and I arrived in Biloxi, hours after Katrina tore through the region.

We spotted a boat, the Luna Sea, situated in the middle of a parking lot, blocks away from the beach.

We heard a dog bark, and became concerned that the critter might be stranded on the vessel, clearly someplace where it shouldn’t have been.

Making our way onto the boat, we discovered a bruised and battered Harvey Shows, 79, stretched out beside his toy poodle, Cocoa, and his black lab mix, Lady.


We made sure Shows — who lost power steering on his boat as he tried to move it from Pass Christian to Mobile — got medical care, and had enough food and water to see him through. He wouldn’t vacate his vessel, but we checked on him every day.

The link to the Post story’s broken, but I found it here, along with a picture of Mr. Shows with his dogs.

Years later, on an anniversary of Katrina’s landfall, I received a call from one of Show’s daughters, thanking me for my efforts to inform her of her father’s whereabouts in the aftermath of Katrina.

The story of the Luna Sea and Mr. Shows is just one of the memories from Katrina. I drove down the beach road with the gobsmacked Biloxi mayor on that first day. We had guns pointed at us when my photographer insisted on taking pictures of looters.

But the point, albeit a long time coming, was the feeling — and the words — we shared when we saw a convoy of FWC boats, swamp buggies and law enforcement personnel headed towards Biloxi in those initial trying days.

“Here comes the cavalry.”