Hungry bears fill up on garbage before winter

  • Published
  • By Benjamin D. Kim
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Garbage--this is the root cause of bears being in the community, said Kristal Walsh, an environmental specialist with the 1st Special Operations Engineer Squadron at Hurlburt Field. Walsh routinely responds to bear sightings on base, one of her main goals is plain and simple: to spread bear awareness and safety.

The bears in the area have a steady diet of fruit, nuts and berries, but bears will opt for pizzas or other tasty leftovers from exposed garbage cans that can fill their daily caloric needs in minutes, said Walsh. After the summer breeding season the bears are most active, foraging for up to 18 hours and consuming up to 20,000 calories a day. During this fall feeding frenzy, the bear consumes about four times more food than what they consume at other times of the year.

"Bears who learn to associate people with food return to the same places and ultimately teach their cubs the same bad behaviors," said Walsh.

If a bear sighting turns into close contact which may be too close for comfort, there are several steps to take.

"If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing and do not turn and run," said Walsh. "Back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice."

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, black bears may huff, snap their jaws, swat at the ground or even "bluff charge" when they feel threatened or cornered.

"Remember to always stand your ground but be respectful of the fact that these are wild animals which could act in an unpredictable manner," said Walsh.

Before being put in an undesirably intimate situation with a bear, it is critical that any bear sightings are reported to Natural Resources personnel and 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron so that early management intervention can be most effective, said Walsh.

FWCC biologists work consistently with Hurlburt Field professionals on which bears will benefit from aversive conditioning tactics. These nonlethal measures are all approved by the FWCC as effective ways to discourage bear activity.

"Professionals are trained to respond and effectively manage human-bear conflicts," said Walsh. "First Responders are trained in aversive conditioning by the FWCC but it can sometimes take many days to determine the appropriate situation for hazing a bear."

Black bears are a protected wildlife species and it is illegal to feed, harm or kill bears in Florida, said Walsh. The past few years, Hurlburt Field has been recognized for efforts and success in dealing with bears but ongoing support and contribution is needed from the base to ensure success for years to come.

"It takes each and every person on the base to understand their role in minimizing human to bear conflicts," said Walsh. "It can be with securing garbage at your residence, removing bird-feeders from your tree, cleaning your BBQ grill, maintaining sanitary conditions around buildings and facilities or locking an open dumpster as you drive by. These efforts, as small as they may seem, discourage bears from being an unwelcome visitor and go a long way in keeping Hurlburt Field a 'bear safe community.'"

Special bear-proof trash containers are provided to residents. If their can is not working or the locks are broken, residents can contact the Housing office for a replacement can at 884-7505.

If you see a bear, please contact Natural Resources at 884-7916 or if there is a safety concern, the 1 SOFSS can also be notified at 884-777. In addition, the FWCC has an on-call biologist for wildlife alert to answer any questions concerning bears at (888) 404-3922.

Comments and pictures can be also posted to the Hurlburt Field Bear Country Facebook page. Please remember that all information reported is helpful and is tracked to assist professionals in making informed decisions about bear issues. Additionally, visit for more information about bears and safety.