http://community.emeraldcoast.com/apalachicola/news/article.showarticle.db.php?a=1697 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- October 26, 2006 By By David Adlerstein -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Florida wildlife officials have decided not to press charges against a Carrabelle woman who earlier this month shot and killed a Florida black bear that repeatedly climbed on to the screened-in back porch of her home. Capt. Donald Duval, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said FWC Officer Charlie Wood determined the Oct. 1 shooting of a 332-pound male bear by Juanita Brown, of 1674 State Route 67, was justified. Brown is the wife of former Carrabelle mayor Jim Brown. FWC Lt. Steve Thomas later consulted with Jeremy Mutz, the assistant state attorney, who declined to prosecute the matter. Juanita Brown could have faced a third degree felony, for the taking of a protected species. Duval said that since the Browns secured their household garbage after the bear first entered the porch Sept. 26, repaired and reinforced their screened porch twice and attempted to contact the proper authorities, Juanita Brown was justified in using lethal force after the bear pressed his nose against the sliding glass doors about two feet from where she sat writing inside her house. “We believe that the situation was justified,” said Duval. “The bear was repeatedly causing property damage and had entered the actual residence where she was in fear for her life.” According to Wood’s incident report, the FWC officer arrived at the house, on the north end of Carrabelle, just before 9 p.m. and met up with Carrabelle Deputy Spence Massey, who was first on the scene. The two men found the bear lying in a large pool of blood about six feet from the sliding glass door, and a visibly shaken Juanita Brown. She then recounted to Wood that no one in the house had been injured and that the problems had begun on Sept. 26 when the bear had pushed open a screen door, entered the back porch and made a mess rummaging through boxes. The couple managed to scare the bear from the porch, but it knocked out a screen adjacent to the door. Jim Brown, 82, repaired the screen, reinforced it with heavy screen mesh and informed the sheriff’s office. On Sept. 30 the bear returned, Juanita Brown said, describing to Wood how it had entered the porch by knocking out sections above the reinforced screen. The bear rummaged through boxes and left the way it came, prompting Jim Brown to once gain repair the damage. On the fateful night of Oct. 1, the bear came back a third time. Juanita Brown, 62, was seated inside the house writing, less than two feet from the sliding glass door. “The back porch light was on and she looked up from her writing to see the bear at the sliding glass door with his nose pressed against it,” wrote Wood. Juanita Brown screamed for her husband but he threw his back out and was unable to get up from the bed. “Mrs. Brown then grabbed a 22-caliber rifle from the corner to the right side of the sliding glass door, the bear turned away from the door quartering to the right, she cracked the door open and started firing at the bear,” wrote Wood in his report. The woman then closed the door and ran to the bedroom to help her husband. The two later called the sheriff’s office. Wood noted in his report that there was a smudge on the sliding glass door 17 inches down from the top, indicating where the bear had been standing on its hind legs, and multiple smudges on the lower two feet of the door apparently made by the bear. It was determined by the officers that Juanita Brown fired 10 times at the bear and hit it six times. Three wounds were on the right side of the spine, from the front shoulder along the neck, and the other three were on the left side of the head and neck, at the jaw and ear and about five inches below the ear. The 10th round fired was not located. Duval stressed that FWC examines each incident on a case-by-case basis. Since there was no evidence garbage or other food had been left out, clear signs of repeated property damage to the porch, which is part of the Brown home, and proof of repeated efforts to secure the porch, no charges were filed for the taking of a threatened species, he said. Florida law also says that “Intentionally placing food or garbage, allowing the placement of food or garbage, or offering food or garbage in such a manner that it attracts black bears, foxes, raccoons, or sandhill cranes and thereby creates a public nuisance is prohibited.” Duval urged property owners to exercise care so as to not attract bears. “We have a protocol about how to be bear aware,” he said. “We take numerous calls; it’s not a problem for a bear to be in a yard. They’ll show up and find garbage or dog food. “They (officers) try to educate the public,” said Duval. “We try to use education first without criminal action.” He noted that sometimes it’s a matter of changing habits until a bear no longer is interested in your property. “You need to quit feeding the birds for a while until the bear is no longer attracted to the food,” said Duval. Biologist Says Shooting Was Avoidable Adam Warwick, an FWC biologist in Carrabelle familiar with the bear population, said that when he moved down there a few years ago, “I got an appreciation for the magnitude of the bear problems down here. “It’s not my primary responsibility but it almost has become that it’s such a big problem,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be dealt with and we’re looking for long-term solutions to bear-human contacts.” Warwick said he believed the bear’s death was “avoidable,” after a report from Jim Sullivan, one of the department’s bear response agents, saw dog food on the porch of the Brown’s home. FWC contracts with these agents to respond to bear calls. “Because our bear problems became so numerous, we started contracting out,” said Warwick. He said agents often determine that a bear has been attracted to a property because “either they’ve left their garbage out, left the grill out, a bird feeder or dog food. Their sense of smell is 20 times better than a bloodhound’s. “Bears are going to be around here and they’re going to move through. They’re eating acorns getting ready for hibernation,” said Warwick. “Bears don’t just break into screened-in porches for nothing.” Warwick said shutting down a bear’s food supply will lead to it most likely going away. “Their nature is to naturally fear humans, but once he realizes there’s not negative feedback, no punishment, and no threat to his safety (the bear will come around again),” he said. “That demonstrates that that bear has lost some of its fear of humans.” The biologist said that in those cases, officers will generally find the bear, trap it and relocate it deeper into the forest. “The first time she called we probably would have trapped anyway,” Warwick said. “It got to the second and third time since we didn’t know about it. It was totally avoidable. If she called us, we would have been over the next day and the bear would have gone in it (the cage).” Jim Brown, who was hospitalized a few days before the first incident regarding a possible heart attack, told Wood he had indeed telephoned the sheriff’s office and was asked to enter his number manually onto the key pad. FWC reported that it had no evidence of any calls received regarding the bear. “I seriously don’t think that bear was going to break into her house. It’s very, very rare,” said Warwick. “I’ve heard of a lot of bears pressing up into a window. This goes on every single day. During the fall they’re more active during the day and they’re trying to feed for hibernation.” Warwick said a post-mortem examination of the bear showed it was six to seven years old, in excellent physical condition and without a tag, indicating it had not “offended” before. “He was just your typical male,” he said. “They generally have home ranges greater than females. You’ve got to really corner these bears and give them no other option for them to attack. They’re going to do whatever they can to get away.” Warwick estimated that this area’s black bear population, the largest of six islands of habitat in the state, has about 800 bears in the Apalachicola National Forest area, ranging from the Apalachicola River east to the Aucilla River and north to Interstate 10. The bear’s body was buried in an undisclosed location,” Warwick said. “This happens more than you believe and we don’t charge them,” he added. “I know of three or four incidents when people have shot them on their doorstops. The last one that was euthanized was after a boy at the Carrabelle Cove Apartments had been handfeeding it.” Warwick said FWC is working to get bear-proof garbage containers into the area, and has proposed a $100,000 grant to the city of Carrabelle that is awaiting approval. “Defenders of Wildlife have pledged to buy several dumpsters,” he said, noting that the nature organization is sponsoring a group of graduate students from the University of Central Florida who next month will canvass homes in Lanark Village, Carrabelle and Eastpoint to share lessons about bears.