BROOKSVILLE — After waking up Tuesday morning to an overturned trash can and scattered debris, Blair Hensley quickly hatched a plan to deal with the perpetrator.
Hensley would wait on his porch in the pre-dawn darkness with a .22-caliber rifle and a six-pack of beer. That would be enough, he thought, to scare away the raccoons and any other critters bold enough to venture into his yard.
But this trespasser was much bigger than a raccoon. And no one knows for sure if it will come back.
Authorities say a black bear ambled down Mount Fair Avenue in east Brooksville on Monday, a rare sighting that some say will become more common as development continues to encroach upon the woodsier areas of Hernando County.
Hensley's neighbor, Mark Browning, caught the bear pawing at the bird feeder in his yard and lumbering down the street. Browning took a few pictures of the bear, later told Hensley about it and within a couple of days word had finally gotten around to city officials.
"I didn't believe him at first," said Hensley, who owns the Coney Island Drive Inn on E Jefferson Street. "But what are you going to do? Bears are probably more scared of us than we are of them."
The bear sighting came only a day before biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission captured a black bear in a rural neighborhood not far south of the Hernando/Citrus border. That bear was released Wednesday in a remote area of the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area.
Officials were doubtful that it was the same bear that made its way into Brooksville.
"Maybe it was his brother," joked police Chief George Turner. "It wasn't a cub. But it looked like it was pretty healthy, a pretty good size."
Turner said the city had reported the bear to the wildlife commission but had no plans to issue public warnings through the reverse 911 system. That would happen only if the bear was a nuisance or a threat to the public.
"Bears have been here and are always going to be here," Turner said. "We're not concerned for anyone's safety."
Brooksville residents should prepare themselves for more bear sightings in the near future, said wildlife commission spokesman Gary Morse.
Many parts of the city border the 34,000-acre wildlife management area, which runs from northern Pasco County to Citrus County and is part of a larger bear corridor of 165,000 acres that runs to the state's Big Bend area.
Morse said because this is the time of year when "mama bears push the teenagers out" and development continues to encroach in their habitat, bears are occasionally going to venture out into residential areas.
To keep the bears from becoming frequent guests, Morse recommends not taking out the trash until the morning, bringing in any bird feeders at night and cleaning off the barbecue grill.
"If you don't do all of that, it's an encouragement for the bears to stay in the area," Morse said. "And usually at that point, the bears start behaving badly and get into all sorts of trouble. So it's important to pick up all the trash and put away all the food."
So Hensley plans to put away his rifle. Along with his trash.
"There's not much to worry about," Hensley said. "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it."
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6120.