Environmental program director aims to educate on how to coexist with black bears

Florida black bears have been sighted about half a dozen times on FGCU’s campus. Although many people automatically consider bears as ferocious creatures, these Florida black bears are more interested in the food humans leave behind than the actual humans.
“Black bears are omnivores,” said Ricky Pires, the director of the environmental education program. “Their diets consist of 80 percent plants and berries, 15 percent invertebrate insects and five percent small mammals.”
These black bears on campus have lost a lot of the berries and plants due to the construction of dormitories, lecture halls and other buildings.
So, what have the bears done to survive when 80 percent of what they eat has been replaced by artificial productions of human civilization?
They have learned to rely on this same civilization. These bears are teaching their cubs to turn to trashcans filled with food instead of the berry bushes they used to feed from since the latter has been replaced by buildings.
“Bears need to learn to be wild again,” Pires said.
Pires and her assistant, Erica Waller, a senior environmental science and criminal justice major, are working on a new project to be called Wildlife/Bear Proofing FGCU.
This project aims to help the black bears and help the FGCU community coexist with them. This new project consists of monitoring campus trashcans and removing the least used.
FGCU has 50 large green trashcans with open tops, meaning trashcans that someone does not need to manually open they can simply to throw food into. These are easy for bears to take food from due to the size, height and design.
Pires said the bears hurt themselves when they take food from these trashcans. They also become more dependent on human civilization. In order to try to stop this and help the survival of the bears, Pires and Waller will be zoning off different areas on campus and monitoring how often the trashcans in each zone are used for one month.
These zones will be the different areas around campus that have a trashcan such as the one by the main campus bus loop, or the one by the smoking area on campus. If the trashcan is not used often it will be removed and a replacement trashcan will be set inside the nearest building. If a trashcan is still used often, it will remain in the current spot.
By removing these unused trashcans, the project’s objective is to help the black bears turn back to the plant and berry diet they need for survival.
There are also student volunteers working to monitor the zones.
“We are currently putting signs out advising people the trashcans are being removed,” Waller said. “In a few weeks we will remove the trashcans zone by zone, and volunteers will monitor them by going to their zone once or twice a week and seeing if there is litter where the trashcan used to be and also to look inside and ensure the trash cans inside are equipped to handle the indoor and outdoor trash.”
“I think it’s a wise move on the school’s part,” said Logan Lafave, a sophomore education major. “But I’d also fear that without trash cans blatantly visible and available outside, litter could potentially increase.”
“I think it’s awesome that the school is working toward helping the black bears, but I think they will simply try to find other trashcans to eat from,” said Patrick Burns, a freshman accounting major. “The bears will still be hungry, even if there are less trashcans. In addition to taking some unused trashcans away, the school should try to plant more of the berries they rely on so they can turn back to that.”
Students can help with this project by dumping any food in a trashcan indoors rather than outdoors. They can also pick up food and related litter they find on campus and drop it into the trashcans inside.
Pires said students must also remember that these black bears will not harm them. They are merely interested in the leftover food they may have.