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FWC puts Lehigh Acres on bear alert

Kelli Stegeman

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FWC puts Lehigh Acres on bear alert

CREATED Dec. 7, 2012

LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - Southwest Florida's bear problem came front and center this morning in Lehigh Acres with a message delivered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The FWC says it's relatively easy to protect your family. It's just a matter of doing a few simple things, especially in Lehigh Acres. The town is neslted between the two big bear populations of Big Cypress and Highlands County. 

"They are out here," said Lehigh Acres resident Cheryl Strianese. She knows living there that wildlife comes with the territory, even bears. 

"If a bear comes wandering into your yard, do you know what to do?" asked FOX 4's Kelli Stegeman. "Yeah!" exclaimed Strianese. "Run in the house!"

This year is a bear market in Florida with activity on the increase.  

"This is the time of year when they are stocking up on calories," said Chad Allison, a biologist with FWC.

The easiest way to get those calories is in a trash can. That is what brings the bears to the Southwest Florida hotspot of Lehigh Acres. There have been 83 bear calls there this year.

"Doughnuts and turkeys and chicken bones, that's a whole lot better than palmetto berries," laughed FWC biologist Angeline Scotton. "So what we're trying to encourage folks to do is simply secure their trash."

The FWC went door-to-door in Lehigh on Friday educating and encouraging residents to take action. One idea, getting a bear proof garbage can.

"It can get out of hand," FWC officer Demian McClogin said. He responds to bear calls. "The bears, they're not out to hurt anybody. They're not like a grizzly bear, polar bear. They're just out to get a meal." 

If human meals aren't taken out of the equation, it could and will get worse. 

"The end result is a fed bear may have to be euthanized at some point because it may have developed such irregular habits that there's no going back," Allison said.

But until there's a solution it is going to be a part of Lehigh life.

"Heck yeah, come on!" Strianese said. "Just don't get me!"

You can find more information in the pamphlet handed out Friday from the FWC called 'A Guide to Living in Bear Country." 

If you have any questions or spot a bear in your neighborhood you can call FWC at (863) 648-3200.