For Immediate Release
December 8, 1998

Contact: Tom MacKenzie
404/679-7291

FLORIDA BLACK BEAR REMOVED FROM
ENDANGERED SPECIES CANDIDATE LIST

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in the federal register today a new 12-month finding for a petition to list the Florida black bear under the Endangered Species Act after field studies showed the population is two to three times higher than earlier estimates.

"A status review estimated the sustainable population at 1,600 to 3,000 bears covering much of the species' historical range," said the Service's Southeast Regional Director, Sam D. Hamilton. "Therefore, we have made a new finding that listing the bear as endangered or threatened is not warranted at this time."

The Florida black bear is a subspecies of the wide-ranging American black bear and occurs only in Florida and the coastal plain areas of Alabama and Georgia. It is generally found in forested areas and eats mostly plant foods, such as berries and acorns. Because black bears prefer areas remote from human activities, the species now occurs primarily on public conservation lands such as national forests and national wildlife refuges.

A private citizen in Lake Geneva, Florida, petitioned the Service on June 11, 1990, to list the Florida black bear as a threatened species. The petition stated that legal and illegal hunting, habitat loss, and collisions with automobiles threaten the bear. On January 7, 1992, the Service determined listing the species was warranted, but because of the low degree of threat, further action was precluded by the need to list other higher-priority species.

Subsequently, the Florida black bear was one of a number of species named in a legal settlement between the Service and the Fund for Animals concerning the listing program. As part of the agreement, the Service agreed to resolve the conservation status of the Florida black bear by December 31, 1998.

The Service's status review conducted this year considered information available since the 1992 finding. The review determined that most of the bears live in secure habitat in four areas: Apalachicola National Forest and adjacent lands, with an estimated population of 400 bears; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Osceola National Forest, and adjacent lands, with an estimated 1,200 bears; Ocala National Forest and adjacent lands, with an estimated population of more than 200 bears; and Big Cypress National Preserve and adjacent lands, with an estimated 400 bears.

"The Florida black bear has secure areas of habitat comparable in size to the habitat of other populations of black bears in the Southeast," Hamilton said. "Based on the population figures and the future land management activities anticipated in these four areas, we believe the bear's population will be stable in the foreseeable future. In addition, public land providing bear habitat has grown to nearly 3 million acres, which will help to sustain the population."

A threatened species is one deemed to be likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. While collisions with automobiles continue to be a serious problem, the Service does not believe they threaten the long-term survival of these four populations.

The Service acknowledges that some areas now supporting small bear populations may lose these populations in the future due to human population growth. These may include the Mobile River Basin in southern Alabama, the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge area, areas east of the St. Johns River, and areas in Highlands County in Florida.

The species is no longer legally hunted, except for a limited hunt in Georgia in the Okefenokee Swamp area, and poaching does not appear to be a significant threat.

The public can obtain further information from the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6620 Southpoint Drive South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, Florida 32216, telephone 904/232-2580.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

Release #: R98-117

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