Maybe the bear thought it’d check out the the county commission’s next workshop, a few hours too early as it turned out. Maybe it was trying to figure out where all those 911 calls signaling bear sightings came from (in that case, it was right on the spot). Maybe it was scouting a safe place to hide from the next open-season on bears, though for now the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is staying the guns. Or maybe it was sniffing for remains of its dearly departed grounds, when it could freely roam and call the area its own.
Whatever the case may have been, a black bear was found prowling around Flagler County’s EOC sometime around 1 a.m. in the night of Sunday to Monday when a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy drove up on it, shined a light on the animal, and caused it to run off.
Emergency operations staff later reviewed surveillance video and found the seemingly adult bear walking around the parking lot, Fire Chief Don Petito said.
“I’ve lived this since 1980,” Emergency Management’s Bob Pickering said. “Bear sightings in Flagler County are uncommon but they’ve happened in the past, it seems like once or twice a year we’ll have a sighting. They’ve been sighted in Palm Coast, they’ve been sighted here, but they’re very hit and miss sightings.”
And Meriwether Lewis’s self-defense observation aside (a shot in the head, the great explorer of Lewis and Clark fame wrote in his journal, with spelling good enough to spook a bear, is “the [only] shot indeed that will conquer the farocity of those tremendious anamals”), black bears are not, in fact, into attacking people. “It’s extraordinarily rare for them to be confrontational,” Pickering said. (Lewis, one of whose men was being chased by the bear for lunch before it was shot, may have been referring to grizzlies, who are to black bears what bulls are to goats.)
The Sunday sighting prompted a caution from Flagler County Human Resources Director Joe Mayer to government employees: “If you come in early, leave late, walk on your break or lunch, be advised that bears have been seen in the area surrounding the EOC,” he said. “Please govern yourselves accordingly.”
The county’s communications office took advantage of the sighting to issue a release reminding residents of bears’ occasional presence. “Flagler County is growing but it is still a rural county,” County Administrator Craig Coffey is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s a reminder that there is a variety of wildlife in our area, bears included.” This was, after all, black bear country not too long ago, as the historian Francis Parkman described the area around “the lazy waters of the St. Johns” river before the colonial era: “Here was the haunt of bears, wild-cats, lynxes, cougars, and the numberless deer of which they made their prey.” The animals have been replaced mostly by the B, W, P, R and other sections of Palm Coast, with rare reminders of that past.
Fish and Wildlife noted an uptick in sightings in areas that include Palm Coast recently, to the point of holding informational presentations emphasizing better knowledge of handling bear encounters. The last such presentation in Palm Coast was held last August. FWC issued a “Guide to Living in Bear Country” brochure that outlines the variety of bear experiences–and responses–possible. FWC estmates that there are some 4,350 black bears in the state, up from about 300 in the 1070s, despite the recent hunt of black bears that FWC authorized in 2015.
Florida Black Bears mainly live in forested areas like sand-pine scrub and oak scrub. They tend to be solitary, except during mating season. You can learn more (and hear more) about the sounds bears make here.
Bears have good eyesight and hearing, as well as an excellent sense of smell. “There is an old adage that when a pine needle drops in the forest the eagle will see it fall; the deer will hear it when it hits the ground; the bear will smell it,” wrote John McPhee in his book on Alaska.
Residents should keep barbecue grills clean, ripe fruits and vegetables picked and garbage locked up. And if you’ve been reading or listening lately, you shouldn;t have a grill working anyway (unless it’s a gas grill), since a burn ban is in effect.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a YouTube video “Living with Florida Black Bears” that provides more information. See below.