The Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) is a constituent of the larger black bear species (Ursus americanus). Historically, the bear dominated a good part of Florida and the neighboring states. Currently, this rare species occupies only a small portion of Florida. The bear was included in the list of endangered species in 1974. Due to intensified human activities, the survival of these bears has been threatened. There has been an impeding conflict between the bears and humans in relation to garbage, feeding, and hunting. Therefore to manage these bears, there is a need to understand the interaction between ecological and the social environments. As such, it will be possible for a peaceful coexistence between these bears and the people. This research paper will focus on the significance of conserving this rare species, and the various strategies used to make the conservation successful.
These bears are also known as umbrella species. The name is derived from the fact that these bears require a broad spectrum of ecological specifications, which implies that as we protect them we are also protecting others species that coexist with them. These include the endangered indigo snake and the famous Florida scrub jay. Hence, the bear is an important component of the nation's s ecosystems. To ensure the human-bear conflict is reduced, ecologists consider both the social carrying potential and the biological carrying potential. The former means the maximum number of the bears that the population can tolerate whereas the latter means the maximum number of bears that the environment can sustain comfortably. One of the areas where these bears are reared is the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The other major management area is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). These organizations are involved in such activities as habitat protection and conservation, human-bear conflicts resolution and education services to the community on peaceful human-bear coexistence (Eason, 2014). Also, of great assistance is the Technical Assistant Group (TAG), which works hand in hand with FWC to ensure that the management process goes on successfully.
The need for conservation of these bears also arises from the fact that they have high mortality rate. Surprisingly, the male bears also opportunistically kill and eat the cubs and the denning females. The young cubs have high mortality rate going up to 60%. The male bears are also at a risk of death owing to their wandering nature that exposes them to accidents especially with automobiles, illegal killings, and euthanasia. The bear- human conflict arises from the demand for their body parts in the black market and their conflict with livestock or property destruction (Lowery, Morse, & Steury, 2012). When these bears are injured, the FWC takes the chance and euthanizes any bears that could pose a threat to human survival. When these bears are so euthanized, they seem to lose fear for people and even approach them for food. Bears are also prone to diseases more so the Demodetic mange that results in extensive hair loss. These bears inhabit a large portion of Florida (in exception of lower Keys), Georgia and Alabama. There are also significant populations in Okefenokoe National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Apalachicola, glades, and Big Cypress.
Additionally, bears exist in low numbers, stay in diversified habitats, exhibit low productivity and poor colonization culture. Owing to this, they are at risk of becoming extinct due to this alteration of the environment. This habit fragmentation is what caused the once single massive population of bears to develop subpopulations. This fragmentation may result in genetic distortion that will further contribute to the extinction of the species (Short Bull et al., 2011). This prompts the need for conservation for the purpose of maintaining this rare species. The impacts of genetic degeneration have been reported in Alabama where these bears exhibit kinked tail vertebrae, the absence of exterior tails, and the absence of testicles and the scrotum. Therefore, this calls for prompt actions so as to secure the existence of this species. The United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) has also been in the forefront in conserving the bear species. As such, the organization incorporated the bear under the Endangered Species Act 1990. That decision was challenged in court, but the organization won the case. The other organization that expresses concern for the species is the FWC as evidenced by its passing of the Florida's Endangered and Threatened Species Rule (Dobey et.al, 2005). The rule provided for conduction of biological status reviews on all species that were classified as endangered. The management efforts include habitat preservation, reduction of a bear-motor vehicle collision, and communal education on the significance of preserving the species.
There is also the involvement of government officials in solving bear- human conflicts that arise. Development of bear management units has also been widely used across Florida. This ensures that those with particular traits are reared in the same locality. It also reduces wandering of the male bears which significantly reduces chances of car collisions. In connection to this, the Florida Department of Transportation has been cooperating with the bear management organizations in seeing that these collisions are minimized. To achieve this, underpasses have been greatly adopted which has significantly reduced these accidents. Additionally, to ensure that these bears become an asset rather than a liability to landowners, FWC has established Land Owner Assistance program (LAP). In this initiative, there are cost-sharing agreements with the individual farmers. As such, they are motivated to protect the habitats of the bears. Many other areas have also been isolated to conserve the bear habitats. A good example is the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, which was initiated for protecting habitats more so for bears (Onorato et al., 2011). The management of the bears is essential owing to their aesthetic nature to behold which attracts tourists. They are also good sources of hides and meat and several other products. This leads to stimulation of economies bordering the bear territories. The other possible positive impact is the economic gains from bear based events such as the Florida black bear festival that attracts many visitors. Such festivals give a good chance to the local entrepreneurs to boost their businesses. The existence of black bears in Florida has been the leading factor in the protection of natural habitats. These bears are also crucial seed dispersing agents that impact positively on plant distribution, more so the saw palmetto plant.
Conservation of the endangered species has been a major area of concern by many ecologists. One such species is the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus). There has been an impending conflict between the species and the people. Such conflicts revolve around property destruction and car collisions which cause the death of this rare species. Many organizations and government agencies have stepped in to resolve these conflicts. This has been necessitated by the need to conserve this rare species owing to the several ecological and economic benefits.
- Dobey, S., Masters, D. V., Scheick, B. K., Clark, J. D., Pelton, M. R., & Sunquist, M. E. (2005). Ecology of Florida Black Bears in the Okefenokee‐Osceola Ecosystem. Wildlife Monographs, 158(1), 1-41.
- Eason, T. (2014). A Management Plan for Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area. Lowery, D. R., Morse, W. C., & Steury, T. D. (2012). Biological and Social Investigation of Human–Black Bear Conflicts in the Panhandle of Florida.Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 17(3), 193-206.
- Onorato, D. P., Criffield, M., Lotz, M., Cunningham, M., McBride, R., Leone, E. H., ... & Hellgren, E. C. (2011). Habitat selection by critically endangered Florida panthers across the diel period: implications for land management and conservation. Animal Conservation, 14(2), 196-205.
- Short Bull, R. A., Cushman, S. A., Mace, R., Chilton, T., Kendall, K. C., Landguth, E. L., ... & Luikart, G. (2011).Why replication is important in landscape genetics: American black bear in the Rocky Mountains.Molecular Ecology, 20(6), 1092-1107.
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