Seminole County officials said they will look for ways to continue providing residents with bear-resistant trash cans at discounted rates after the Legislature decided to not include money for the “BearWise” grant program in this year’s state budget.
Seminole has a waiting list of about 780 property owners who’ve asked for the special 64-gallon garbage bins with a special lock-top.
“We need to find a way to continue this program, because it has been highly successful — both in results and in popularity,” County Commissioner Lee Constantine said.
The special bins are considered especially crucial in the area west of Interstate 4 that state wildlife officials have called the state’s “epicenter of human and bear conflicts” because of the extraordinarily high number of the black, furry animals coming face-to-face with humans in residential neighborhoods.
It’s also where three women were mauled by bears in 2013 and 2014.
Since 2017, Seminole has offered the special garbage cans to neighborhoods and individual residents on the county’s west side as a way of reducing the number of bears roaming into neighborhoods looking for an easy meal.
Bears find it impossible to open the special lock-tops and then meander back into the woods or their natural habitat.
Seminole also established an Urban Bear Management Area in the county’s west side, along with an ordinance that requires residents and businesses to secure their trash, bring in pet food bowls, clean barbecue grills and avoid hanging bird feeders. Seminole was the first local government in Florida to impose monetary penalties — up to $100 a day — for violators.
According to state wildlife officials, securing trash and removing other bear attractants has reduced bear and human conflicts by more than 55 percent.
Last year, the Legislature appropriated $500,000 for the BearWise program to help local governments provide residents with the special trash cans and other implement other measures to reduce human-bear conflicts.
Of that money, Seminole received $177,000, Apopka received $85,000 and Mount Dora, $18,000.
The county uses that money to purchase the special cans for about $160 a piece and then offer them to homeowner associations for $42.14 each or for $125.73 to individuals. Low-income residents are eligible to receive the cans at no charge.
Since mid-2017, the county has sold more than 4,000 of the bins, including 1,443 this year.
But this year, money for the special cans wasn’t included in the state’s $91.2 billion budget. Seminole had requested $750,000.
“I think we need to continue this program,” said Commissioner Bob Dallari, who blasted lawmakers for “passing the buck” to local governments in paying entirely for bear-resistant trash cans.
Dallari added that “education is also the key” in preventing human and bear conflicts. Residents in Oviedo and other spots in east Seminole have reported an increasing number of bear sightings — from five in 2016 to 69 in 2018, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Dallari and other commissioners have considered expanding the county’s bear ordinance to unincorporated areas of east Seminole. However, Seminole cities would have to provide residents with their own bear-resistant trash cans.
Commissioner Amy Lockhart said residents can still be “bear wise” without solely relying on the discounted trash cans from the county. But she wants to gather more information during the commission’s budget hearings in the coming weeks.
“Bear trash cans ‘are a nice-to-have’ item rather than a ‘must-have,’” she said. “For me it’s not on my top 10 list [budget] priorities. But I’m willing to listen.”
But Constantine, who was recently named vice president of the Florida Association of Counties, said it’s more than keeping bears out of neighborhoods.
“We’re talking about public safety issue,” he said.