Bear facts

In the midst of the raging controversy about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health system and its long — and sometimes deadly — waiting lists, here’s a bit of information that may confound: There are actually times when government sets out to do something and succeeds.
As exhibit one, we submit the efforts to keep the Florida black bear population from reaching zero. By the late 1970s, due to a number of factors — they included hunting, loss of habitat to development and collisions with cars and trucks — the Florida black bear population had grown so small, wildlife biologists were concerned that number was headed to zero. A count at the time found only 300 Ursus americanus floridanus remaining in the state.
Fortunately, the picture is brighter today. As the Tampa Tribune has reported, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are undertaking a two-year, $500,000 effort to estimate the size of the state’s black bear population. The last estimate, taken about 12 years ago, set the statewide population at 2,600. David Telesco, a FWC bear management coordinator, says the current number is around 3,000.
The biggest black bear populations are in the Panhandle, the Everglades and the Ocala National Forest, all good places for them. There are other populations, including in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, west of U.S. 19 in parts of Hernando and Citrus counties. Those bears are best known for occasionally trying to lumber across U.S. 19 with fatal consequences.
We wish protecting the Florida black bear continued success — just not as much success as the once-dwindling effort to boost the alligator population in the Southeast.
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