14 Oct Counties Rolling out Bear-proof Trash Bins
From an article in the Orlando Sentinel.
Bears used to be mostly Seminole County’s problem.
But since 2015, when homeowner groups in Seminole neighborhoods west of Interstate 4 began requiring residents to lock up garbage in bear-resistant bins, bears have been causing more trouble in Lake and Orange counties.
“I came out yesterday and my garbage was all spread over my yard. Again,” said Steven Hamilton, 48, who lives in unincorporated Orange north of Apopka. “That happens once or twice a month.”
He and his wife, Jennifer, took delivery Tuesday of a new lock-top trash container designed to keep garbage in and nosy bears out.
Bears can’t easily open the bins, tested on western grizzlies and funded in part by a $200,000 grant from the state Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“Put pizza in here, they can smell it,” Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson said as he demonstrated how to operate the bin’s lock. “A bear, he’ll knock over the can a couple of times. When he figures out he can’t get in it, he’ll move onto somewhere else.”
He said he hopes that’s back in the woods.
Orange intends to distribute more than 900 lock-top containers in its “bear areas,” generally north of Apopka and west of the Wekiva River wildlife corridor that separates Seminole from Orange.
Lake County, which has accounted for 14,000 calls logged by the state’s nuisance-bear hotline since 2015, also expects to hand out 865 lock-top bins.
“This is going to make a lot of residents very happy and a lot of bears unhappy,” Lake County Commissioner Wendy Breeden said at a public meeting.
Lake had a waiting list of 155 people who want the bins, mostly in rural northeastern neighborhoods, where bears are blamed for killing chickens, goats and pigs.
Human-bear run-ins peaked in Central Florida a few years ago with the first of three bear maulings in Seminole County.
Central Florida includes some of the best bear habitats in the state, many of which bump up against neighborhoods in Lake, Orange and Seminole counties.
Bears, described as opportunistic eaters, aren’t picky. If they can’t find acorns and palmetto berries, they’ll go for a garbage-can full of leftovers or shake seed from a bird-feeder, according to summaries of calls to the state’s nuisance-bear hotline.
The garbage-bin rollouts coincide with the arrival of autumn when omnivorous Florida bears begin a “hyperphagic period” during which they’ll forage 18 hours a day for food to prepare for winter.
In summer months, a bear will eat about 5,000 calories a day — about the equivalent of two cheese pizzas, according to the FWC’s Florida Black Bear page.
But they’ll devour 20,000 calories a day during their fall feeding frenzy. Bears can lose 25 percent of their body weight during the winter “denning” period, the FWC says.
“As bears become more active in the fall, they take the path of least resistance to find food,” said Dave Telesco, who heads the FWC bear-management program. “This draws them into neighborhoods and areas with convenient food sources, which can be dangerous for people.”
“We’re hoping we’ll see the incidences of bear encounters go way down with these new containers,” Nelson said while talking with neighbors who stopped by the Hamiltons’ house for a peek at the containers.
Because she raises chickens in a backyard coop, Jennifer Hamilton, 42, said she previously considered buying a bear-resistant bin but price deterred her. Some cost more than $300. The FWC grant allowed Orange County to provide her with a new bin for $50.
Nelson said the county will plow proceeds into a fund to buy more.
Suzanne Cannon, who also received a lock-top bin Tuesday, said she hopes her investment saves bears who live in forested areas near her home.
“It’s good for the bears and it’s good for the people,” she said. “We have a lot of bears here and, if we do all the right things, they’re not a problem …. This will help.”
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