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Black bear sightings increase in Florida Panhandle

11:29 AM, Jul 30, 2013   |    comments
File photo of a black bear attempting to get at some delectable trash in a Panhandle neighborhood. / Special to the News Journal
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Navarre, Florida (PNJ) -- A young black bear reportedly struck and killed in Navarre appears to be the sad consequence of a growing number of bear and human interactions in the area this year, according to authorities.

Last Wednesday morning, members of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were called to U.S. 98, near Sunrise Drive, where the female black bear, weighing about 110 pounds, was found dead just off the road.

Since January, the commission has received 360 calls about bear sightings in communities bordering Eglin Air Force Base, including Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa, and Walton counties, as compared to 249 during the same time period last year, regional spokesman Stan Kirkland said.

The corresponding bump in bear encounters, has prompted state Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, and members of the commission to schedule a public workshop for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the South Santa Rosa Center to discuss the issue and safety measures residents can take to protect their home and property.

At last count, there were approximately 3,000 black bears living in Florida, according to FWC. In the Eglin region, they appear to be moving farther west, Kirkland said.

"As towns develop and new developments open up, it's a situation where we've seen across the state people who are moving into wildlife habitats; and now, they're face to face with the creatures that inhabit them," he said.

Broxson said he had his own encounter 10 days ago while riding his bike.

"He ran out in front of me at Tiger Point," he said. "Bears are going to become a part of our future. ... They're looking for territory they can be dominant in."

So far, FWC has not received reports of injuries or significant property damage among humans from the bear encounters, according to Kirkland.

The bears, however, haven't fared quite as well. Four bears have been recovered after being struck and killed from vehicles this year, according to the commission.

In the latest case, it is unclear when exactly the bear was hit or if there was any damage to the vehicle.

Based on where the animal was found, Kirkland said the bear was likely alive for some period of time after it was struck.

While the exact age of the bear has not been determined, Kirkland said "It's safe to say, it's likely a young bear."

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