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Wayward Bears Cause Stir Checking Out Human Habitat

Monday, June 22, 1998 * The Tampa Tribune * Florida/Metro 5

An Associated Press report

BROOKSVILLE – It’s that time of year again, when young bears are on their own for the first time. And that means more sightings where bears usually aren’t supposed to be.

This weekend, a 258-pound black bear took a brief tour of Brooksville, with a harried host of police and firefighters chasing.

Another black bear, weighing just 100 pounds, was spotted Saturday, crossing busy U.S. 19 near a retirement community in Spring Hill. Several other bear reports have emanated from Citrus County.

“It is real difficult for the younger bears to find their own territory around here,” said Niki Everitt, bear hot line coordinator for the Gulf Coast Conservancy.

Brooksville’s bear first was spotted late Thursday crossing State Road 50, headed toward Tom Varn Park. Police and firefighters tracked the bear through the park and the Brooksville Quarry golf course.

The bear then meandered down the middle of Broad Street before being surrounded near Luigi’s Pizza. An official with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission came with a tranquilizer spear, planning to stick the bear by hand.

“The guy saw the size of the bear and figured that wasn’t a great idea,” said Capt. Frank Phillips of the Brooksville Fire Department.

Emergency officials waited until a tranquilizer gun was brought from Land O’Lakes. The bear then was fitted with a transmitter collar and got a free ride to the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area.

It is not unusual for bears to trundle into residential areas this time of year, experts say. Mothers give their male offspring the boot once the youngsters are 2 years old. With residential areas growing, the young bears keep finding smaller and smaller areas in which they can establish their own territory.

“They’re trying to find a territory of their own, where they won’t get beat up,” said Lt. Rip Stalvey, a game commission spokesman.

Everitt said people should not be too concerned about the recent bear sightings, since “we have never had a bear attack in Florida.”

Black bears primarily eat the tender parts of palmettos and Sabal palms, as well as acorns and berries. Recent weeks of drought likely have reduced their food supply.

“If we don’t get some relief soon,” Everitt said, “we’re probably going to see a lot more of it.”