LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - A wild invasion in Lehigh Acres neighborhoods has wildlife officers issuing a warning. Recently, homeowners have been attracting big, hungry bears, and Florida Fish and Wildlife believes trash cans are a big part of the problem. When they're left out, the food inside becomes dinner for bears. So, they are warning homeowners to make their cans and yards bear-resistant.
The sight of a bear walking down Oak Avenue in Lehigh is not uncommon these days. "He's not very scared of humans, so he'll walk ten feet from your house," Paul Benstine said. "He doesn't care."
Benstine has lived on Oak Avenue almost six years. It wasn't until recently that he noticed them rummaging around his yard. "You yell at a dog, and they'll turn and run," Benstine said. "You yell at a cat, and they'll run. You're at your back porch yelling at a bear, and it just looks at you and keeps walking like, shut up. What are you going to say to a 300-pound bear? He wins."
Barbara Johnson has seen them too. And, there are claw marks on her car to prove it. "This is the worst part," Johnson said, showing her car. "You can see here, and all the around the edges, you can see it scratching and trying to get whatever was under the car."
FWC says bears are coming and staying in Lehigh because of easy access to food and trash. The problem is getting more dangerous as they become more comfortable around humans. "There's a number of ways trash can be secured that prevents bears from getting into it," FWC Spokesperson Gary Morse said, "and that's the answer to the problem. Trapping bears is not a solution as long as the attractant or food source is there."
-securing garbage in a garage or wildlife-resistant container
-putting garbage out the morning of pickup
-removing wildlife feeders
-feeding pets indoors
Johnson and Benstine say they've done all of this. They think bears are just running out of places to live. "There's just more animals and less habitat," Johnson said. "I think cutting down all the palmettos mays have cut down on the territory they were used to hiding in."
FWC is actually holding a news conference Friday morning in Lehigh to address the issue of bears and trash cans. Trust wink news to be there and let you know what happens.