Today’s guest on All My Children Wear Fur Coats was Katrina Shadix, the founder and director of Bear Warriors United.  Katrina is a second generation Floridian who grew up in rural Florida and spent her childhood appreciating nature and wildlife.  After receiving a degree in environmental science and discovering it was hard to make a living “hugging a tree” or “saving an animal” she embarked on a mission save bears.  This passion arose after the October 2015 Bear Hunt in Florida, after more than 21 years without a hunt.  Katrina came face to face with a young bear, they locked eyes and she’s been a bear advocate ever since!  With her support there have been no more bear hunts in Florida.

Florida black bears are the only species of bear found in Florida.  The Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) estimates there are approximately 4,050 black bears left in Florida.  Katrina doesn’t necessarily agree with this number because it is based on an extrapolation formula – the FWC analyzes bear hair that has been trapped in a “hair snare” – (say that five times fast) to determine the number of bears in Florida.  Since less than 5% of the “snared hair” actually has follicle, she thinks the number of bears in Florida is substantially less than the reported number.

Hunting is not the only danger to bears.  Bears are hit by cars when they travel from one habitat to another.  Katrina also tells us there is a bear poaching problem in the Ocala National Forest where bears are killed illegally and their organs sold.  She also told us that bears self-manage their populations through delayed implantation of embryos if the bear doesn’t have sufficient nutrition and a good food source.

Many people think bears are a nuisance because they like to raid trash cans.  The reality is that we are encroaching on their native lands, destroying their food source.  Then, when we put out our trash cans full of delicious “junk food” the bears just can’t resist.  Bear proof trash cans can be expensive, as much as $300 per trash can.  To overcome the cost of protecting bears, Katrina and a friend have designed a bear proof trash can latch that costs about $10.  She is happy to accept donations but does not sell the trash can latches – instead, she gives them away to anyone who wants one!  Katrina is also willing to talk to your HOA if you have a “bear problem” and help come up with a solution.

Katrina is also working with Republic, the trash collection contract holder for Oviedo, Florida.  They have an automated trash pick up system that uses only one individual in the truck.  They aren’t able to get out and unlatch the bear proof latches.  Katrina has been working with the CEO of Republic to come up with a solution where an additional person could ride on the truck to operate the bear latches.  It’s a win-win; both for the bears and Republic.  The bears are safe, more jobs are created and there’s good press.  She says there are about 5,000 trash cans in our area that might be eligible for the bear proof latches.  Congratulations and good luck to Katrina as she makes this goal a reality.

Katrina works closely with the FWC – she says they are doing a great job and have a lot of great programs teaching people how to become “bearwise.”  She says she will encourage them to continue their good work by being a “pebble in their shoe.”  She says we are lucky to have such good wildlife law enforcement in Florida – not all states or countries enjoy the protection Florida has.

If you want to learn more about black bears in Florida, please visit her on FaceBook.  The bears of Florida represent the plight of all Floridians as our natural habitats give way to urban sprawl.