Florida black bear
|Florida black bear|
|A Florida black bear in Ocala National Forest|
U. a. floridanus
|Ursus americanus floridanus|
The Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) is a subspecies of the American black bear that has historically ranged throughout most of Florida and southern portions of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. The large black-furred bears live mainly in forested areas and have seen recent habitat reduction throughout the state.
Florida black bears are typically large-bodied with shiny black fur, a short tail and many have brown fur on their muzzles. Pelage color is consistently black in Florida, but summer molting of guard hair may cause them to look brown. A white chest patch, called a blaze, is found in about 30% of the population. It is Florida's largest terrestrial mammal, with an average male weight of 300 pounds (140 kg); the largest known male weighed 760 pounds (340 kg) and was found in Seminole County and the largest known female was 400 pounds (180 kg) and found in Liberty County. Females generally weigh about half as much as males. Average adults have a length of between 4 feet (120 cm) and 6 feet (180 cm), standing between 2.5 feet (76 cm) and 3.5 feet (110 cm) high at the shoulder. Their feet have short, curved, non-retractable claws on each of the five digits. Black bears walk with the entire sole of their feet touching the ground. Bears use a pacing stride, where both legs on the same side move together so that the hind foot is placed in or slightly in front of the track of the forefoot; the smaller (inner) toe occasionally does not register in the track. Eyes are small, and ears are round and erect.
Florida black bears are mainly solitary, except when females have dependent cubs or pairings during mating season. Although they are solitary mammals, they are not territorial, and typically do not defend their range from other bears, but will defend a food source from other bears. Black bears have good eyesight (especially at close range), acute hearing and an excellent sense of smell that is believed to the best of any land mammal.
Female bears in Florida become sexually mature at three to four years of age. Breeding occurs from mid-June to mid-August  and coital stimulation is required in order to induce ovulation. Black bears experience delayed implantation, where fertilized eggs temporarily cease development after a few divisions, float free in the uterus and do not implant until late November or December. This adaptation allows bears to synchronize reproduction with annual food cycles. Lowered nutritional levels caused by poor acorn or berry production can result in delayed first breeding, decreased litter sizes, and increased incidence of barren females. 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. Actual gestation is 60 days, and cubs are born in late January to mid-February. Most studies in Florida have documented an average litter size of approximately two cubs, although greater productivity in Ocala National Forest (NF) in older females and females with previous litters has been noted. At birth, cubs weigh approximately 12 ounces and are partially furred but blind and toothless. Neonatal growth is rapid and cubs weigh six to eight pounds by the time they leave the den at about ten weeks of age. Cubs stay with their mother and may den with her the following year. Family dissolution usually occurs between May to July when cubs are 15 to 17 months old. Females generally form a home range overlapping their natal range  while young males disperse to new areas.
Florida black bears live mainly in forested habitats, and are common in sand-pine scrub, oak scrub, upland hardwood forests and forested wetlands. Black bears in Southern Florida are the only subspecies to live in a Sub-Tropical region. To a lesser extent, it also inhabits dry prairie and tropical hammock.
Before Florida was settled by Europeans, Florida black bears occupied all of the Florida mainland, and even the upper Florida Keys, with a population of around 11,000. The current range is 45% of the historic Florida range, as well as in southern Alabama, southern Georgia and southern Mississippi. Most major populations of Florida black bears live on or near public lands. These include Ocala National Forest, Big Cypress National Preserve, Apalachicola National Forest, Osceola National Forest and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. A study of the Okefenokee-Osceola population found over 500 bears in each of the two study areas. The current bear population in Florida is estimated at more than 4,000, within seven subpopulations.
Florida black bears are omnivores and their diet varies greatly with the seasons, likely because many of their preferred species of flora and fauna are seasonal. In the spring, they mainly consume Sabal palmetto, Thalia geniculata, Sus scrofa, Bombus bimaculatus and Camponotus species. In the summer, they primarily eat Serenoa repens, Ilex glabra, Rubus species, Phytolacca rigida, Vaccinium species, Camponotus species, and Anisomorpha buprestoides. In the fall, they eat Serenoa repens, Ilex glabra, Nyssa biflora, Vespula species, Apis mellifera, and Dasypus novemcinctus. 
Nearly 20 acres (81,000 m2) of wildlife habitat are lost to new development every hour in Florida.
Vehicle-bear collisions are a threat to regional populations and the top known cause of death for Florida black bears. Since 2012, over 230 bears are killed each year on roadways statewide. The Florida Department of Transportation partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation to examine the effects of roads on bear populations across the state. As a result over 90 bear crossing signs are found statewide and numerous wildlife underpasses. Wildlife managers kill approximately 35 bears annually due to threats to public safety.
There are numerous laws protecting the Florida black bear. Some examples of state protections include: it is illegal to feed bears (F.A.C. 68A-4.001), kill bears because they are deemed a 'nuisance' (F.A.C. 68A-9.010), or sell/purchase bear parts (F.A.C. 68A-12.004 (12)). The Bear Conservation Rule prohibits 'take' of the species, unless a permit is issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (F.A.C. 68A-4.009).
Biological Status Review
On June 27, 2012, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) delisted the Florida black bear, based on a peer reviewed Biological Status Review. The report used the IUCN Red List criteria  to evaluate the species' risk of extinction. In addition, the 2012 Florida Black Bear Management Plan was approved and put into action to prevent the species from being listed in the future.
While the Florida black bear was removed from the state list of threatened species, the Bear Conservation Rule (68A-4.009) was adopted at the same time, providing continued protections to the species.
Florida black bear hunting
The Florida State Legislature closed bear hunting in all of Florida, except Apalachicola National Forest and Baker and Columbia counties within the Osceola National Forest in 1974 and closed those remaining areas in 1994. In February 2015, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioners directed staff to develop a limited, regulated bear hunt. After numerous meetings (public and Commission), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission finalized details of a limited bear hunt in September 2015.
The purpose of a regulated, limited bear hunt is to stabilize Florida’s large, resilient and growing bear populations, as one part of state's overall approach to managing bears. Permits were available to residents and non-residents from Aug. 3 to Oct. 23, 2015 and during that period 3,778 were sold.
The bear harvest took place in four of the seven subpopulations (Apalachicola, Osceola, Ocala, and Big Cypress) on October 24 and 25, 2015. The total harvest for the four subpopulations (or Bear Management Units (BMU)) open during the 2015 bear hunt was 304 bears. The breakdown by subpopulation is as follows: • Apalachicola (East Panhandle BMU) = 114 bears • Ocala (Central BMU) = 143 bears • Osceola (North BMU) = 25 bears • Big Cypress (South BMU) = 22 bears
Discouraging bears from human-occupied areas
Bear sightings have been increasing in Florida  in recent years and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission  has posted a number of actions that can be taken to discourage bears from encroaching into human-occupied areas. Most important has been the prevention of allowing access to food sources such as those maintained for pets or livestock. In residential areas, keeping garbage cans in garages or putting locks on lids, as well as discouraging the use of outdoor feeders and keeping pet foods outdoors have met with success. Electric fences have also proven successful as a means to secure perimeters from bear incursions. Keeping ripe fruit and garden vegetables picked in suburban residential and rural residential areas and cleaning outdoor grills have also reduced unplanned human-black bear interactions. Motion-activated alarms have also been found to be effective in scaring bears away.
On December 11, 2015, then-state Senator (now-U.S. Congressman) Darren Soto (D-FL) filed, along with co-sponsors state Senators Eleanor Sobel (D-FL), Joseph Abruzzo (D-FL), Dwight Bullard (D-FL), and Jeff Clemens (D-FL), S.B. 1096, Florida Black Bears. An identical House bill to S.B. 1096, H.B. 1055, was filed on December 29, 2015 by Representative Mark S. Pafford (D-FL) and co-sponsored by Representatives Dwight Dudley (D-FL) and Ed Narain (D-FL). These bills would require the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to create an account within the Non-Game Wildlife Trust Fund to assist with funding for bear-resistant trash cans and take certain measures to conserve bear habitat. In addition, the bills would require conservation efforts including: changing schedules for controlled burns in bear habitat, permanently banning the harvest of saw palmetto berries, and ban sales of timbering rights to acorn producing oaks. The mention of prohibiting the sale of timber rights on state land was in response to land usage in the Florida Black Bear Management Plan  which also included grain farming and cattle ranching on state land. The bills would also require a panel of five biologists and wildlife ecologists appointed by the senate to oversee the Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act. Neither bill however, was heard in their first committee of reference and subsequently died in committee.
H.B. 491, sponsored by Representative Amy Mercado (D-FL), was filed in the House on January 24, 2017. It was referred to the Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee, Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and the Government Accountability Committee on February 6, 2017. The bill was not heard in its first committee of reference and subsequently died in committee. S.B. 1304, sponsored by Senator Linda Stewart (D-FL), was filed in the Senate on February 28, 2017. It was referred to the Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources and Appropriations. The bill was found favorable with a Committee Substitute by the Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation on April 19, 2017. The bill died in its second committee of reference on May 8, 2017. The bills are a revised version of the Florida Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act.
Endangered Species Act Petition
On March 17, 2016 Various conservation groups throughout Florida led by the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Department of Interior to request that the Florida black bear be listed on the Federal Endangered Species Act. However, on April 19, 2017, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services released a final decision regarding the Endangered Species Act petition which denied the change in status. This decision was similar to the results of the petition submitted by Inge Hutchinson on June 11, 1990 which was declined in lieu of state actions to protect the Florida black bear. The federal government deemed that federal action would not be necessary so long as the state was offering sufficient protective measures.
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- "S.B. 1096". www.flsenate.gov. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
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