Editorial: Be hospitable to our bear visitor
When news broke late last week that Sanibel had confirmed the first official Florida black bear sighting in the history of the J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, islanders rejoiced at the unexpected discovery.
However, even the most fervent protectors of wildlife — many of whom who live here claim to be — must have reacted with a bit of skepticism to this news… and rightfully so.
Sanibel is no place for bears.
At one time, experts claim, more than 12,000 black bears roamed throughout the Sunshine State. Biologists are not exactly sure how many black bears are currently living in Florida, but estimates are that less than 1,500 black bears remain.
So when the approximately year and a half old bear wandered onto the Bailey Tract property on the morning of June 27, the animal had already beaten the odds. Black bear populations have dwindled due to the destruction and development of bear habitats. In fact, biologists believe that a healthy bear population needs at least 400,000 acres of habitat land in order to survive.
The refuge’s mere 2,600 acres hardly approaches that figure.
Tara Wertz, lead biologist at the J.N “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, believes that the young bear may have wandered over to Sanibel from another area. She suspects the animal may have come through Cape Coral, arriving on the island by swimming across Matlacha Pass or via Pine Island Sound.
And, like so many other vagrant visitors to the islands do, this bear may simply be passing through. It is not likely to settle on refuge lands, but while it is here, the best thing we can urge our readers to do is be hospitable.
And by “hospitable,” we mean leave the bear alone.
Although the bear’s only known location has been well established, we would hope that folks will resist the temptation to go looking for the bear. Not only would an attempt to find this cub be a dangerous endeavor, the sub-species has been deemed “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. As such, it is illegal to approach or harass these animals.
We also hope that the news of having a bear in our “backyard” doesn’t trigger a sense of panic, or prompt anyone who might accidentally encounter the animal to call 9-1-1. A state trapper dispatched to the island to “remove” the bear may be called upon to tranquilize and/or trap the animal. Or, worse still, the animal may have to be euthanized.
Wildlife officials suggest that it is best to let nature run its course and allow the bear depart on its own. We agree. The bear arrived here under its own free will, so there is no reason why it shouldn’t be permitted to leave Sanibel under its own capacity.
“All he’s doing is trying to find his spot in the world,” said Wertz, who may be contacted (472-1100 ext. 231) should the bear be spotted. “Unfortunately, he’s in a place that really isn’t great for bears.”
Sanibel is, however, a great place for people who care about wildlife — and doing the right thing for this bear.
— Reporter editorial