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FWC captures and kills Bella Terra bears

The fate of a nearly 400-pound black bear roaming the Estero community of Bella Terra was sealed the moment it had access to unsecured garbage in the community and became used to the people.

Florida Fish & Wildlife officials and a biologist set a trap Monday in hopes of catching and then killing the meandering animal. The bear wandered around Bella Terra for several days, drew the attention of residents, was precisely filmed by a 15-year-old girl in her family home, and climbed into omitted garbage bags or into garages with open doors.

FWC policy is to euthanize all bears that have become accustomed to humans.

Bella Terra consists of 1,899 houses, villas and condominiums on nearly 1,000 acres with 100 acres of lakes and 400 acres of nature reserves. The community’s back border flanks Flint Pen Beach in the undeveloped Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed and is 3 miles from I-75.

The bear was sighted by a handful of Bella Terra residents on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday morning, neighbors took photos of the bear eating garbage on another street while a young school child and parents watched nearby.

A bear prowls the driveway of a Bella Terra house in Estero.

FWC officer Felix Collazo expressed concern that the bear was so used to people that he was concerned about the safety of children. He said the bear would likely not be a problem if not cornered, but said it would not trust a wild animal to act predictably.

FWC spokesman Gary Morse said there were 11 reports of bears in Bella Terra in 2013. “There were 13 this year,” he said. “That’s a lot for this size of the community.” He had no figures on how many of these reports ended up in bear traps.

“Bears don’t usually roam human neighborhoods,” Morse said. “Unless there is some kind of attractant. That’s the base of the problem.”

Morse said that once the bear shows such behavior, his fate is sealed.

He said residents need to keep their trash safe and not skip animal feed or other sources of food.

He said catching the bear and moving it to another location is not the solution as they would be visiting the same types of human habitat.

A concoction made from marshallows, cookies, and day-long pastries was used to lure a black bear roaming the Bella Terra community into a trap.  The bear will be put to sleep if it is caught.

Morse said there is a new law in place that allows FWC officials to criminally prosecute people for failing to comply and continue to remove unsecured trash.

“We have the authority to quote people,” he said.

FWC biologist Josh Birchfield set the trap just before noon on Monday and lured the wire cage device with day-long biscuits and marshmallows. The biologist said bears are attracted to sweets.

Morse said the FWC is asking that the trap be left alone. “We need people to stay out of the trap and keep their dogs safe,” he said.

One resident said the bear weighed nearly 400 pounds, said FWC Officer Collazo.

The official said the bear brought some garbage bags from an open garage to a nature reserve in the community.

The trap decision was made based on a number of complaints.

Bud Holler, a resident of Bella Terra, said the animal was a good size. “It’s a big bear,” he said.

Holler said the problem is people are getting used to the animal.

“What if it’s a mother with boys?” he said.

The bear sparked some discussion among residents of Bella Terra as well.

A closed discussion group on Facebook for the residents of Bella Terra was temporarily heated. Some residents complained that property management should handle the wild animals, and others said that living in a rural setting leads to occasional encounters with wildlife.

Diane Silvesti, who said she and her husband were originally from New Jersey, said wildlife like bears nearby wasn’t really a reason they moved to Bella Terra. The Silvestris live on the street where the bear was most often spotted.

“We’re out of town,” she said. “We’re not used to this. Maybe squirrels.”

She said it was difficult for the bears with so much building going on in the rural areas.

“We’re moving into their areas,” she said.

She said that storing trash is a good way to stop attracting the animals, but that “these things will happen. Not everyone obeys the rules.”

FWC biologists arrive in the Bella Terra neighborhood with a bear trap.

Collazo said that when he looked at the bear’s droppings or droppings, he suspected that the animal was suffering from some kind of gastrointestinal discomfort.

A bear prowls the driveway of a Bella Terra house in Estero.Florida Bear Range (2008 figures)University of Florida Expansion of the Food and Agricultural Sciences Institute

Encounter with a bear

If you encounter a bear, FWC recommends the following:

• Stand still.

• Speak to the bear in a calm but confident voice.

• Go slowly back to a safe area.

• Avoid direct eye contact as this can make a bear feel threatened.

• Do not run or make abrupt movements as this can trigger the bear’s hunting instinct.

• Don’t play dead or climb trees (bears are great climbers).

The FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline for this region is 863-648-3200.

FWC officer Felix Collazo is looking for a bear in the Bella Terra community.  He carries a shotgun with beanbag shells.

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