TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Many recognize Tyndall AFB for the active flight line and large scale exercises. However, Tyndall also offers an amusing and charismatic perk to its inhabitants; a population of Florida black bears.
Tyndall lies on a stretch of approximately 26,000 acres of uninhabited, natural land that serves as a perfect habitat for Florida’s abundance of wildlife, the most notable species being the black bear.
The state of Florida has a population of nearly 5,000 black bears according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The primary threat to this particular bear is loss of habitat and this is where the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron natural resources flight steps in.
“Our mission is to maintain the natural land on Tyndall in accordance with the Sikes Act,” said Jared Kwitowski, 325th CES natural resources flight wildlife biologist. “We are also tasked to protect Tyndall’s threatened and endangered species under this law.”
The Sikes Act promotes effectual planning, development, maintenance and coordination of wildlife, fish and game conservation across the Department of Defense.
Bears can often times be perceived as a nuance or danger, especially to those who are not properly educated on bears and what it takes to peacefully coexist.
“Black bears do not like people; in fact they are naturally afraid of them,” said Kwitowski. “Bears have a huge appetite though and the smell of food can quickly draw them in and their hunger may override that fear of people. That’s when potentially dangerous encounters between bears and people can occur.”
According to the FFWCC, the average black bear’s diet is normally 80% vegetables, 15% insects 5% small animals, reptiles or eggs. Bears who live in proximity to humans have developed a taste for garbage because the food people throw out is often higher in calories than their natural food sources. For example, if a bear were to find one pound of hot dogs in the trash, that would provide the same amount of calories as scavenging for approximately 384 acorns.
Kwitowski explained that under Florida state law it’s a crime to intentionally or unintentionally feed a bear, which means that written warnings and citations can be issued for failing to prevent a bear from eating garbage.
“My best advice to avoid a bear intrusion within housing is to be very responsible with your trash,” said Virginia Neubert, 325th Fighter Wing privatized housing resident advocate. “We have to do our part because this is their home too.”
The natural resources flight works diligently to keep bears from becoming pest. If a bear is continuously coming into proximity with people, they will conduct a site visit and educate the inhabitants on bear safety and how to avoid any more interactions.
If the interactions continue, they will wait for the bear to appear and practice intense harassment, to include utilizing non-lethal rubber buckshot in attempt to make the bear’s experience a negative one and discourage it from returning to the area.
Once a bear is identified as a safety risk or will not cease to seek out human food and trash, the natural resources flight works with the FFWCC to determine whether or not that bear needs to be trapped and relocated or euthanized.
While encountering a bear is never on anyone’s to-do list unless it’s at the local zoo, the appearance of the Florida black bear on Tyndall can be a genuinely positive experience.
“They’re very mellow,” said Tech. Sgt. Arnold Sandoval, 325th Force Support Squadron Berg-Liles Dining Facility manager. “Their presence keeps things interesting and prevents Tyndall from being just another typical Air Force base.”
The DFAC is one of the most bear-populated locations on Tyndall and, surprisingly, it’s not because of the food.
“They don’t come for the trash and they don’t make any trash,” explained Sandoval. “Instead, the mama bear would drop her two cubs off in the morning, go and do her errands for the day and come back for them after dinner. She treats us like a daycare.”
Bears seen in these popular areas are assumed to be a problem, but when humans do their part to clean up after themselves the bears are not there to intrude or steal, but rather just to coexist.
Tyndall’s conservation efforts contribute to extensive reforestation operations, protecting and monitoring endangered species and promoting wildlife education to military and civilian personnel. Maintaining an environment where wildlife and people can live in peace promotes the health and well-being of both animals and humans.