This past summer my family and I went camping to Balsam Mountain which is located in a remote area of Smoky Mountains at 5,310 feet of elevation. We walked miles and miles, across several creeks, saw lots of elk, wild turkey, chipmunks, and beautiful scenery.  One of our concerns was running into a black bear, so we read about what to do in case we encountered one and also got pepper spray, just in case. On our way back to camp after a seven-mile walk we made our first encounter with a black bear. It was a juvenile so we stopped. We didn’t know what to do. We stood still for a minute to see what the bear was going to do. It looked at us for a brief moment, and started walking in our direction. The first thing that came to my mind was “where is mama bear …?!” Oh boy, I froze. Luckily the bear turned around and disappeared in the vegetation and there was no mama behind it. That was exciting! Little did I know that soon, I would see another one of its kind a lot closer and personal.

A month after our camping trip I woke up at six thirty in the morning to my son’s call. “Mom! There is a bear in our backyard!” I jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen, and to my surprise, a juvenile bear (just like the one in the Smoky Mountains) was eating the sunflower seeds from the bird feeder. What? A bear in my backyard?! I could hardly believe it. The bear stayed for a few minutes, walked around the yard until it was startled by passing cars and took off into the woods. Later that morning I went to the backyard looking for the lid to the bird feeder; the bear made it roll pretty far. I also noticed that it opened my trash can and spread trash all over the place.

At first, I felt excited, wow, this is so cool. I have seen all kinds of animals in my backyard before – turtles, resident and migrant birds, raccoons, possums, skinks, glass lizards, and my least favorite, snakes. I’ve also heard coyotes. I loved them all, and it gives me great joy to see them, but bears…? I am not sure.

I had great plans for my backyard for this coming spring. I was planning on building a chicken coop and buying 6 chickens and planting a food forest filled with all kinds of fruit trees. But, now I am not sure if that would be possible. Would the bear try to break the coop to eat the chickens’ food or the chickens!? Would it break my trees trying to get fruit? Well, I would have to rethink it. Do I have to put a fence all around my property?

The easiest thing would be to trap and relocate the bear somewhere else, but where? According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) there are 120 Black Bears in the Western Panhandle. Bears are territorial, so even if the FWC relocated the bear it would probably end up in another bear’s territory and it would try to come back here. Why is this black bear in this urban environment? Perhaps because it has no place to go due to increased development and fragmented habitat. So, the only thing left to do is learn to live with them.

Secure our trash can inside the garage and bring the bird feeder inside every evening are now part of our routine. We must adapt to living with wildlife around us. We must remember that they were here before us, and hopefully they will continue to live here even after we are gone.

For information regarding how to live with Black Bears follow this link. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear/living/ .

By Lilian Mauney