CRESTVIEW — Okaloosa County Public Works Director Jason Autrey prefers to call state-supported trash can latches “bear-resistant.”
“I won’t say ‘bear-proof’ because those bears can get into anything if they really, really want to,” he told the County Commission last Tuesday.
That’s when the board agreed to move forward with accepting a “BearWise” award from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It will reimburse the county up to $18,000 for the purchase of about 900 sets of latches that lock trash cans and make them resistant to black bears.
Autrey said the BearWise program is voluntary and the latches will be provided at no charge to anyone who lives in the county. To receive a latch, call 689-5772 and ask to speak with Jim Reece.
Waste Management will not charge residents extra to service the modified trash cans, but they must unlatch the cans on the morning of their waste pickup.
The bear population near Green Acres Road in Wright and in other south county areas next to Eglin Air Force Base is “quite healthy at times,” due in part to bears feeding from trash cans, Autrey said.
District 3 Commissioner Nathan Boyles said bears nosing through household trash “is a north county issue, too, we just don’t complain about it as much” as south county folks.
Autrey said the more densely-populated south end probably has more bear-prone areas than the north.
If officials tried to make an entire neighborhood bear-resistant, the bears would just go to another area, he said.
Commission Chairman Graham Fountain joked about the bears' cleverness.
“My wife tried locking the (food) containers in the refrigerator,” Fountain said. “It didn’t work at all. I found a way to get into it.”
According to FWC data, the agency received almost 47,000 bear-related calls statewide from 2010 to 2017. The callers included people who reported seeing a bear in the area and those who saw a bear accessing unsecured garbage.
Seventeen percent of the calls came from the West Panhandle Bear Management Unit, which includes Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. It had about 120 bears in the state’s fiscal year of 2015.
Most of the calls, or 53 percent, came from the Central Bear Management Unit, which includes the Orlando area and led all units with about 1,200 bears.
In other business Tuesday, commission agreed to have the staff work on a tobacco-free workplace program for 2019.
To decrease insurance costs, the program would prohibit hiring people who use tobacco and give existing tobacco-using employees up to four years to quit.
Tuesday’s meeting was the board’s first session at the new county courthouse in Crestview. Commissioner Trey Goodwin did not attend the meeting.