Walton County has applied for funding from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation that will help reduce interactions between man and bear.
The FWC is donating up to $500,000, through its Bearwise grant, to help local governments reduce conflicts between humans and bears. Eight counties and two cities have applied, totaling to more than $900,000 in requests.
Melinda Gates, Walton County Resource Liaison, said Walton County applied for $80,100, including a 10 percent in-kind match that would include dumpster retrofit kits, county park trash cans and a trash compactor. These additions would benefit around 25 local businesses.
“In 2017, FWC reported 140 bear-related calls within the West Panhandle area and 30 percent of those calls were related to bears in garbage,” Gates said. “The Bearwise funding will assist with providing retrofit kits to reduce the human-bear conflicts.”
Bekah Nelson, FWC's regional public information director, said the counties are only eligible to receive up to the amount they requested and that the modifications would make dumpsters and trash cans bear-resistant.
Gates said that since 2002, the bear population in the western region of the panhandle has almost doubled. These increases, along with boosts in the human population, increase the probability of human-bear interactions.
She also said that human-bear conflict does not mean attacks, but when humans and bears are living together in harmony. Most conflicts occur around unsecured garbage.
Gates said Walton County only has black bears, which aren't typically aggressive. However, she said that like any other animal, they will attack if they feel threatened.
The FWC will award the grants after evaluating the counties on current government ordinances, number of households, human-bear conflict probability and more human-bear interactions.
Over $500,000 was granted by the FWC to seven counties and two homeowner’s associations in 2017, with 3,000 bear-resistant trash cans installed and 54 dumpsters modified.
Bearwise funding will be awarded by October of this year.