Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Maybe the bears could just take taxis

Florida has its own subspecies of black bear: ursus americanus floridus. It once lived all over the state, but we have hemmed it into a few remaining areas, six or eight depending on how you count.

The smallest of these populations roams a corridor from Citrus County down to just south of the Hernando-Pasco county line. It is known as the Chassahowitzka black bear.

The last detailed study of the Chassahowitzka bear ended in 2002. At the time, experts thought there might not be more than 20. No one really knows what has happened since then, which made it all the more poignant when a pair of cubs was killed by a car a few years ago.

On Tuesday, the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District will vote on trading a 90-acre piece of land it owns in northwest Pasco County to a developer.

The trouble with this swap, say critics, is it will sever the southern end of the bear corridor, isolating something like 700 to 1,000 acres.

"It would almost certainly cut off the remaining bear habitat to the south," says Tom Hoctor, director of the Center for Landscape and Conservation Planning at the University of Florida.

Hoctor says we can't know what last straw will cause such a small population to "wink out." Opponents include the Defenders of Wildlife, the Gulf Coast Conservancy and the Gulf Restoration Network and Audubon of Florida.

Now, it should be stressed that the water district is not just twirling its mustache with glee and saying, "Ha ha! Let's kill Gentle Ben!" There are tradeoffs and benefits.

The district gets 396 nearby coastal acres in return from the developer, SunWest, and the donation of another 849 acres after that. This land, too, is habitat for many species.

Eric Sutton is the water district's land resources director. He agrees there is "no argument whatsoever" that the development will have some effect on the southern end of the bear corridor.

But he also says that must be balanced against the total benefits. And since SunWest would develop the usable parts of the other parcels anyway, the district is making the best deal it can.

The Florida black bear ranges in size from 150-200 pounds to 300 pounds or more Bears mostly eat a plant diet — nuts, seeds, fruits and such — but are not above a stray fish carcass or carrion. They shy away from us, but not our garbage.

In both diet and habitat, they make do.

I spent a pleasant half-day knocking around the 90 acres to be traded, bought with the help of the Florida Forever program. The terrain ranges from sandy hills and pine uplands to low wetlands. To the west, the land levels off into broad, grassy marshes before meeting the gulf.

If I could wave a magic wand, I would save all of it. The district board does not have that option. If it makes this swap, it gambles that it is not dealing a decisive blow to the most fragile bear population in Florida — Hoctor says maybe in North America. I understand the district's reasoning and do not think it is acting wildly or unthinkingly. But I would not take the deal.

The governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district's headquarters, 2379 Broad Street (U.S. 41) in Brooksville. The district's number is (800) 423-1476. Its Web site is

Maybe the bears could just take taxis 02/21/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2009 10:58am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa's bid for fifth Super Bowl means secret and expensive promises to NFL


    TAMPA — Before Tampa is officially named the host of the 2021 Super Bowl, local organizers have 90 days to convince NFL owners the city can meet certain conditions.

    What are they? That's top secret.

  2. Meet Batman's 8-year-old sidekick, whose super power is vanquishing a brain tumor

    Human Interest

    First, he vanquished a brain tumor.

    Now, Ty Verbanas is preparing to help Batman take on a collection of evil villains.

    Zachary Hurst and TJ McDonnell, playing Alfred the butler and Batman,  welcome 8-year-old Ty Verbanas to the Florida Batcave.
 To inspire Ty as he faced brain surgey, a Florida nonprofit that delpoys super heroes promnised to train the boy as the Caped Crusader's sidekick.
  3. Westshore Marina District project takes shape with another acquisition

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — One of Tampa Bay's prime waterfront areas took another major step toward redevelopment Friday as WCI Communities bought 2.35 acres in Westshore Marina District.

    WCI Communities, Lennar's high-end subsidiary,has paid $2.5 million for 2.35 acres in the Westshore Marina District for 35 townhomes. WCI is under contract  to buy an additional 9.5 acres.
[BTI Partners]
  4. Watch a man steal a lawn mower by driving it off the lot in Clearwater


    CLEARWATER — Police are looking for a man who drove a lawn mower straight off the Quality Motors lot on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard last week.

    Clearwater police are looking for a man who drove a lawn mower off the Quality Motors lot on May 18. (Clearwater police)
  5. Ex-daughter-in-law accused of $80,000 shopping spree with family Sam's Club account

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Plenty of people have in-law horror stories. But perhaps not as vexing as the one Thomas and June Simpson tell.

    Police said Mishay Simpson shot Andrew Noll in 2014 after he entered her Davis Islands home. An investigation found the two had been having an affair. Now she is accused in a civil lawsuit of charging $80,000 to her ex-husband's Sam's Club card, which was linked to his parents' bank account. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]