Category Archives: Wildlife Conservation

West Panhandle Bear Management Unit

Florida counties:  Escambia, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton

“Bears in the West Panhandle BMU [Bear Management Unit] are part of the Eglin subpopulation, named after the Eglin Air Force Base that represents the majority of occupied bear range in this BMU.  The subpopulation estimate is below the minimum subpopulation objective, and there the management objective is to increase the current bear subpopulation.  However, Eglin Air Force Base is probably at or near its biological carrying capacity, and therefore increases in bear numbers would likely occur in suitable habitats in other parts of the BMU. [Blackwater River State Forest and any Northwest Florida Water Management areas west of the Choctawhatchee River.] (“Florida Black Bear management Plan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2012”, p. 94, lines 2273-2279.)

“Minimum subpopulation objective                                                                       200 bears   Estimated subpopulaton in primary range                                                       63-101 bears   Potential bear habitat in Conserved Lands could support                                    121 bears

“Currently, potential bear habitat in conserved land is approximately 74 percent of that needed to support the minimum subpopulation objective.  Habitat conservation efforts should seek to expand occupied range and create the following critical landscape connections: along the Yellow River to Blackwater River State Forest; with the Apalachicola [National Forest] population by building on existing conserved habitat toward the Choctawhatchee River; and Alabama’s Mobile bear population through Cunecuh NF [National Forest]. … Increasing genetic interchange with the bears in Alabama would benefit both of these small subpopulations.” (page 94, lines 2286-2293.)

Minimum subpopulation objective is what is needed to maintain a sustainable population.  “In order to maintain a sustainable population of bears throughout Florida, we must provide adequate habitats, promote viable subpopulations, [emphasis theirs] provide connections among subpopulations, manage human impacts, and influence human behaviour.  It a subpopulation drops below a certain level, it becomes increasingly susceptible to negative effects like inbreeding and environmental variability.”  (p. 1, lines 556 to 565.)

Habitat needed for 200 bears                                                                             1,198,461 acres  Potential Bear Habitat                                                                                           1,886,289 acres Potential Bear Habitat in Conservation Lands                                                        723,051 acres Total area of the BMU                                                                                            2,686,289 acres*

(page 96, lines 2297-2300)

*need not be only public lands, but a mix of private lands and public.




Consider large mammals in conservation and restoration of forests

The following is from “Florida Black Bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) Management Plan of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission which was approved on June 27, 2012.  [Those wishing to read this interesting and well written report can download this report.  Florida black bear management plan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, Florida, 215 p.)

“The use of fire by land managers to promote restoration and maintenance of fire climax communities provides well-established benefits.   The frequent applications of fire creates a plant community structure and successional sere that is beneficial to an array of wildlife.  However, bears and many other species benefit from habitat patches with prolonged fire intervals.  Several studies have indicated the importance of saw palmetto and oak mast for food, … and the use of dense understory including palmetto as concealing cover for natal dens….  However, fire can be fatal to oaks … and reduce fruiting of palmettos when burned more frequently than every five years….  Consequently, bears in Florida use areas that have at least five years between burns more frequently than they do areas with shorter burn cycles. … Land management compatible with bear needs would include a diverse mosaic of forest communities where some forest compartments are burned less frequently than every five years.  Conversely, the frequent application of fire could help reduce the abundance of bears in areas where that is a management objective. [my emphasis](pages 53-54, lines 1708-1724)

“… Present efforts to enhance red-cockaded woodpecker populations, for example, involve controlled burns and longleaf pine restoration; however, frequent, large-scale winter burning may reduce the diversity and abundance of foods available to bears and kill cubs in dens.  A coordinated management effort will provide much needed habitat for bears, scrub-jays, snakes and other wildlife species that will require alternate while burns are underway.  Therefore, coordinating land-management activities that span the landscape, address the seasonal conditions, and the varying requirements of individual species is important for establishing successful habitat conservation efforts for bears and other wildlife species.” (page 54, lines 1730-1739)

“Management goals and desired conditions for other wildlife species, particularly listed species, may not always result in prime bear habitat.  However, many species with seemingly divergent needs can be accommodated if a variety of land management regimes are used to provide diverse forest communities at the landscape level.” (page 54, lines 1740-1744.)

“The Florida black bear thrives in habitats that provide an annual supply of seasonablly available foods, secluded areas for denning, and some degree of protection from humans. Harlow (1961) described optimal bear habitat in Florida as ‘a mixture of flatwoods, swamps, scrub oak ridges, bayheads and hammock habitats, thoroughly interspered.'” (page 8, lines 717-721).

“…approximately 80 percent of the natural bear foods in Florida are plant material. … Although 66 different plant species have been identified in bear diets, the fruit and fiber of saw palmetto are important throughout Florida and throughout the year. … Insects make up around 15 percent of Florida black bear diets, usually in the form of colonial insects (e.g. ants, termites) and beetles. … The remaining five percent of a typical bear diet in Florida is animal matter, which includes medium-sized mammals like raccoons, oposssums, and armadillos as well as small livestock and white-tailed deer. …” (pages 10-11, lines 784-792.)