Santa Rosa County could be in line for state money to help combat human-bear interaction if the county is willing to pass an ordinance requiring residents to bear-proof their garbage.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has $500,000 in money from the Legislature to be allocated to counties to help with bear issues, but 60 percent of that money is set aside for counties that have bear interaction prevention ordinances in place, according to the FWC’s Kaitlin Goode.
So far, only Seminole County has adopted such an ordinance.
“Thirty percent of our phone calls have to do with bears getting into people’s garbage,” Goode told commissioners at their Monday meeting. “That means that 30 percent of our phone calls can be reduced just by securing garbage.”
Bear calls from Santa Rosa County make up 6 percent of statewide calls annually, she said.
“Between 25 and 50 percent of calls in Santa Rosa County have to do with bears getting in trash,” Goode said. “Most of it is concentrated in South Santa Rosa County – Navarre, Gulf Breeze, Holley by the Sea – lots and lots of phone calls down there… A lot of the phone calls are concentrated around Eglin Air Force Base.”
An ordinance might require garbage to be secure, either by a bear-proof container or a retrofitted standard container, or by keeping garbage in a place like a garage until 6 a.m. the morning of pickup. Also, new development might be required to supply bear-resistant receptacles for new homes.
Such an ordinance would be enforced in the bear-human “conflict zone,” based on reported bear issues. That would include all of south Santa Rosa, as well as most of East Milton, Milton, Pea Ridge and Pace.
Commissioner Rob Williamson, whose District 4 includes Navarre, is in favor of adopting some type of ordinance.
“The area that I represent might be the center of the bullseye. We have quite a few conflicts. You just need to log on to Facebook to see that,” he said. “For those of us who have kids and have pets, and we hear and see these increased bear conflicts, it’s a serious issue.”
Commissioner Bob Cole, however, was skeptical.
“What’s the game plan? They’re still breeding. They’re still increasing in numbers. This looks like we’re trying to put our finger in a dyke,” Cole said. “To tell a citizen, ‘Well, don’t put your trash out (too early).’ … A lot of citizens are going to tell you where to go.”
Seminole County has seen a marked decreases in bear-human interactions since instituting its ordinance, Goode said.
Commission Chairman Lane Lynchard asked County Attorney Roy Andrews to look at the Seminole ordinance and bring back recommendations for the commission to discuss.
Commissioners also discussed a proposed three-year interlocal agreement with the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority that would allow recyclables collected in Santa Rosa to be processed at ECUA’s new recycling facility under construction in Perdido Key.
The agreement allows ECUA to charge Santa Rosa customers about $2 per quarter or 67 cents per month.
While Williamson supports the ECUA agreement, he also wants to find out how much it would cost for Santa Rosa to set up its own recycling facility.
“A policy decision like this is going to impact tens of thousands of Santa Rosa County residents. I want to make sure that the decision is in the best interest of Santa Rosa County, long-term,” he said.
“I’m trying to figure out how it is that it is a good fiscal decision for Escambia County, which has a landfill, to build a recycling facility … but it’s not a good fiscal decision for Santa Rosa County to do the same, considering we have a landfill.”