A state lawmaker who represents the Seminole County neighborhoods that have seen two bear attacks in five months is pushing a plan to mandate residents use bear-proof garbage cans.
Rep. Mike Clelland wants all residents in subdivisions with frequent bear sightings to use special cans with a latch mechanism and is seeking money from the state budget to pay for them.
“My main concern is that the next victim will be a child or an elderly person who won’t be able to escape the grasp of a bear," Clelland, a Democrat from Lake Mary, told me. "And we will have no excuse, God forbid it happens, for not having done everything we could to prevent it.”
Earlier this week I wrote about how Seminole County commissioners are crossing their fingers and hoping that residents will buy the $180 bear-proof trash bins voluntarily.
But we all know the only way to get anywhere close to 100 percent participation is to require the upgraded cans and threaten code enforcement fines if they aren't used.
Clelland says he is seeking money from the state budget to buy the bear-proof containers for residents in the problem areas. The exact dollar amount will be based on data from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, which will help determine how many homes need the cans.
He also wants extra dollars injected into FWC's budget to help with an education campaign on how residents can prevent run-ins with bears. That plan would likely include mailers, door-to-door talks by FWC officers and public service announcements.
In addition, Clelland says state lawmakers need to consider increasing the penalties already on the books for people who are caught intentionally feeding bears.
State budget negotiations will kick into high gear next week when lawmakers return from the Easter and Passover holidays.
It's unclear how much initial support Clelland will have. Conservative Seminole County and a Republican dominated Legislature tend to bristle at the idea of new government mandates, but it's hard to argue this is over-zealous regulation.
Seminole County has a serious bear problem. Two attacks in five months. And bear season has barely started yet. This is a public health and environmental problem that demands attention.
There is outcry this week about FWC officials killing bears in response to last weekend's attack. But FWC is only doing it's job. Those bears are dying because too many residents refuse to help cut off the easy food source bears are finding in our neighborhoods.
Mandating bear-proof trash cans is a simple solution that will go a long way.