Developing Risks to Associations Resulting from Wild Bears

21 Mar 2019

As Floridians should be aware, Florida is inundated with bears. In fact, many communities experience bears riffling through their dumpsters and trash cans.  Therefore, Owners need to be vigilant with respect to when their garbage is put out, as well as, how it is contained.  Hopefully, your community is aware that members can purchase and obtain “bear-proof” trash cans.  However, you may not be aware that communities with dumpsters can actually purchase bear proof dumpsters.  Unfortunately, communities whose dumpsters are not bear proof, or where the residents fail to properly place their trash in the dumpster and properly close and secure the dumpster – it may be at risk. 

As numerous communities have experienced, people often refuse to even put their trash in the dumpster as it is easier to just put it on the ground next to the dumpster.  These people, apparently, expect someone else to properly handle their trash.  Unfortunately, this is a further invitation to bears.  In fact, this creates a situation that invites the bears to routinely return to the sub-division for an easy food source.  Therefore, even if your community has bear proof dumpsters, if the Owners do not want to take the time to either put the trash properly in the dumpster or properly close and secure the dumpster, the Association’s risk may be escalated and the Association may be exposed to potential risk and liability. 

What may surprise many of you is the fact that Associations who take positive steps to reduce the threat associated with bears can inadvertently escalate their risk. In fact, we have even encountered instances where Association(s) have invited the Fish and Wildlife Commission to come speak to their residents about the risk and danger. Unfortunately, an Association’s risk can be escalated depending on how Fish and Wildlife handle(s) the situation.  Do not be surprised if Fish & Wildlife point out (in front of all the Owners) the Association’s risk and potential liability if the Association fails to have bear-proof dumpsters or if its dumpsters are situated in locations not of their liking.  Of course, from a practical perspective, if this occurs, and the Association fails to implement the recommendations of Fish and Wildlife, the Owners have been apprised that they may have a claim in the event of a bear attack, etc.  Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that often the dumpster locations were set up by the Developer and it is often difficult, if not impossible, for the Association to realistically change the dumpster locations.  Even if they can be moved, and even if a viable location exists, understand the practical problems the Association is going to face when it moves a dumpster closer to one Owner and away from another Owner.  You can count on the Owner(s) who are now nearer to the dumpster to complain and object.  Therefore, when you encounter these types of situations, consider discussing such matters with your Attorney in advance to minimize the exposure and risk to your Association.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provided these tips in case you should meet a Florida black bear:

Q.            What do I do if I see a bear?

A.            If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice. Do NOT feed or intentionally attract bears. If a bear eats something on your property, take note of what it is and secure it once the bear leaves. NEVER approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.

If you are in your yard, Make sure you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.

Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or a secure area.

Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.

Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline, 888-404-FWCC (3922). Cellphone users can call *FWC or #FWC.

Q.            Are black bears fast runners or good climbers?

A.            Absolutely! Bears can run up to 35 mph and climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds.

Don’t run. Running triggers a chase instinct in many animals, including bears. You can’t outrun a bear.

Don’t climb a tree. Bears are excellent tree climbers. Mother Black bears often send their cubs up a tree when they sense danger. You don’t want to end up in a tree with a couple of cubs above you and a mother bear below you. If a bear chases you, you’ll just end up fending off a bear in a tree rather than on the ground.

Don’t play dead or turn your back on the bear. Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route. Stop and hold your ground if your movement away seems to irritate instead of calm the bear.

If bears feel threatened, they may clack their teeth together, moan, blow, huff or paw the ground. The bear is showing that it is as uncomfortable with the situation as you are. These are not indications of aggressive intent or an imminent attack. Truly predatory or aggressive black bears are eerily silent.

Q.            What do I do if the bear stands up on its hind legs?

A.            If the bear stands up, this is NOT an aggressive behavior. The bear is only trying to see you better to figure out what you are and assess whether or not you are a threat. Back away slowly, making sure the bear has a clear escape route.

Q.            What do I do if a bear comes toward me or attacks?

A.            If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you but stops before reaching you and returns to where it started, it is trying to scare you off. If you stand your ground, the bear will likely stop and move away. No matter what happens, do not run away. Continue slowly backing away, talking and holding up your arms. The bear may charge or vocalize several times until it is comfortable turning its back on you and leaving.

While there have been no predatory bear attacks on people in Florida, more than a dozen people have been bitten and scratched by bears defending themselves, cubs or food sources.

If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively. People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks or even their bare hands. Bears are wild animals and must be respected. Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm humans. Do not take unnecessary risks.