Just the bear facts

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Solomon Cook
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Tyndall Air Force Base is home to various species of animals, one of which being the Ursus americanus floridanus, commonly known as the Florida black bear.

Due to the black bear’s close proximity to humans, the professionals of the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources section implore Airmen and their families to know the bear facts.

“Tyndall is in the historic population range for the Florida black bear,” said Jared Kwitowski, 325th CES wildlife biologist. “Because of our close proximity to Apalachicola Forest, and the fact that we have about 26,000 acres of undeveloped land, it is normal for us to have a population of black bears on base. They seek out forested areas that provide food and shelter.”

Kwitowski continued with the fact that Tyndall residents and workers may notice black bears wandering around base year-round due to the climate.

“Because it seldom gets cold, they do not hibernate,” he said. “They may slow down briefly during cold spells, but do not hibernate for long periods of time. Black bears become very active in the fall, looking for calories to fatten up for winter. They are also very active in the spring, again, looking for calories to put weight back on after winter and to find food for cubs.

“Bears are most actively searching for food during the night and early morning hours, but it is not unusual to see them during mid-day,” Kwitowski added.

This species of bear in adulthood can weigh between 126-551 pounds and 90-375 pounds for males and females respectively. Due to their size dwarfing human beings, there may be an opportunity for a dangerous encounter if a person does not know what to do when coming upon a black bear.

“If you find yourself in close proximity to a bear, the best course of action is to stand your ground, don't turn your back. Yell at the bear in a loud voice and make yourself look as large as possible by waving your arms and banging on something to make noise. These actions will intimidate and scare the bear away in most cases,” Kwitowski advised.

He went on to further explain what not to do when in close proximity to a bear. 

  ·       Do not approach the bear or call to it as if you want to pet it or give it food. 

·       Never feed a bear. This will make the bear associate people with food and cause the bear to become habituated to people, which will cause safety problems and inevitably, the removal of the bear.  

·       Never run from a black bear, even if they charge, they will typically stop short abruptly in what is called a “bluff charge.” Bluff charges are their attempt to scare you away from the area. 

·       Never get near or in between a mother and her cub. The mother could mistake this as aggression toward the cub and she may try to defend it with aggression toward you. Always stay a safe distance from a bear.

Within the gates of Tyndall, and most human populated areas, there is one readily available food sources for bears – trash.

“Anything that bears deem as a food source attracts bears,” Kwitowski said. “Securing your trash is of utmost importance. Putting out trash the morning of trash pick-up, rather than the night before is very important. Bears spend most of their time trying to find enough calories for survival. If they can find those calories in our high-calorie trash, they are likely to make it a habit. Using the bear resistant trash cans properly is also important.

“If the food source is not available, the bear will stop coming to the area,” he added. “Keeping trash secure will also reduce the number of unwanted pests, such as rats. Our base commander, Col. Michael Hernandez, has been instrumental in the effort to prevent human and bear conflicts on Tyndall. He is responsible for the purchase of over 100 bear-proof dumpsters, which are being distributed base wide and 600 bear-resistant trash cans for use in base housing. This is a great effort to attack the problem at its source. If we can keep a safe space between people and bears and keep the bears in the woods, not the neighborhood, we will have solved the problem.”

Kwitowski also explained the fate of a black bear if deemed a threat to humans on Tyndall.

“Bears are removed if they are deemed a threat to human safety. If a bear is trapped, it is euthanized,” he said. “The reason for this is, if you trap a nuisance bear and relocate it, you have just relocated the problem. Chances are very high that that bear will either become a problem somewhere else or will return to where it was captured. This is why it is so important that bears are not intentionally or unintentionally fed.”

 He went on to emphasize that human involvement could lead to this fate for the bears.

As the Florida black bear, Airmen and their families continue to cohabitate on Tyndall, the 325th CES and their partners will ensure the base populous is bear aware.

“For bears that are in base housing, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) should be contacted at (850) 265-3676. They may also contact Tyndall Natural Resources for assistance,” he added.  

For more information about Tyndall wildlife and how to mitigate human interference, call natural resources at (850) 283-2822.