Back to Nature (Published on - July 26, 2007)
The Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
Illustration by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
A navy sky sparkling with a billion stars like pinholes stretches from horizon to horizon, reminding me of when, as children, we used to play under the dining room table swathed in mother’s discarded table cloths.

In artificial darkness we whispered pretending to be little bear cubs protected in our den of silence.

As human populations multiply it has become increasingly scarce to locate a place of stars and silence away from the restless world. One can travel hundreds of miles and hike deep into the wilds and still hear planes overhead and the sound of traffic wafting up from the valley. Many cultures believe that it is in silence that knowledge is gained. We need silence and reflection to gain inner peace and introspection within ourselves.

Native Americans hold the bear as the symbol of introspection. The bear enters into the silent den to hibernate, awakening in the spring renewed. The bear climbs the tree which is the symbol for the link between heaven and earth. The bear is considered, through reflective silence, able to move between heaven and earth. Silent reflection is the strength of the bear.

The black bear, found only in North America is primarily nocturnal, but can be observed during daylight foraging for food, fishing, having a good back scratching or if female teaching and playing with her cubs. The black bear is solitairy except during a brief mating season and the maternal time for raising cubs. Bear cubs are born remarkably small weighing only one pound with the average litter size between one and two.

Black bears are omnivorous (eat meat and plants) and need an average of 11-18 pounds (5-8 kilograms) of food each day. They feed on almost any succulent, nutritious vegetation (tubers, bulbs, berries, nuts, and young shoots). The food items eaten most often and in the greatest volumes are seasonally available fruits and colonial insects. The fruits of saw palmetto, cabbage palm, swamp tupelo, and oaks are preferred plant foods in fall. The honey bee is the most frequently eaten insect and armadillos are the most commonly eaten vertebrate.

The Florida black bear, the largest native land mammal in Florida, is listed as a threatened species due to habitat destruction, vehicle collisions and hunting.

“It is believed that at one time there were as many as 12,000 black bears living throughout Florida. Biologists aren’t exactly sure how many black bears live in Florida today, but they estimate that only about 1,500 black bears remain.” (Southwest Florida Water Management District)

“The Florida black bear was listed by the state as a threatened species, in 1974. This status applies to the entire state except for Baker and Columbia counties and the Apalachicola National Forest.

Hunting the Florida black bear is prohibited throughout the entire state.

The future of the Florida black bear is dependent on preservation of sufficient forest habitats through growth management and proper management of these forests. Because there are many unanswered questions concerning basic bear biology, scientific research also is necessary to help determine the most effective management practices.

Proper management of habitats is necessary to satisfy the black bear’s varied diet. Management practices should strive to allow for a high diversity of plants.

Converting naturally diverse flatwood and hardwood communities into slash pine plantations with very few other plants may reduce important foods for the black bear.” (The University of Florida)

Learning more about bears is vital to their survival. Next time you look at the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) remember that this is the constellation of the Great Bear. Although the bear symbolizes inner peace and silence, we wouldn’t want that silence to be the absence of this magnificent animal, the Black Bear of Florida ... back to nature.

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