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After bear mauling, Florida neighborhood imposes 'bear-wise' rules

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - A bear attack on a woman during an evening walk has prompted a Central Florida neighborhood to impose the state's first rules requiring residents to secure garbage cans from the scavenging omnivores.

The neighborhood where the attack happened this week began requiring residents to use bear-resistant garbage cans with securely locking lids, according to rules posted on the homeowners association website on Wednesday.

Under the measures, designed to reduce the number of human-bear conflicts, residents are also banned from feeding wildlife other than birds. Barbecue grills must be covered and garage refrigerators safeguarded.

Neighbors found Susan Chalfant, 54, bleeding profusely from the head after a December attack by a 200-pound bear near her suburban home in Longwood, about 15 miles north of Orlando.

Bear complaints have more than quadrupled in the past decade, state officials say, as urban sprawl has brought people closer to former wilderness areas.

“We’re hoping that this policy will result in us living more harmoniously with nature,” Wingfield North homeowner association vice president Gary Kaleita said, noting that a neighbor was feeding bears before the December attack.

Bears frequent neighborhoods where they have learned they can find food, said Greg Workman, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The homeowner association rules are believed to be the first of their kind to be introduced in Florida.

Kaleita said his research turned up no other similar homeowner association rules.

It is already illegal in Florida to intentionally feed bears, subject to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

So-called "bear-wise" rules are recommended by conservationists in parts of the United States and Canada where bears are known to roam close to urban areas. The city council in Boulder, Colorado, approved an ordinance in March requiring bear-resistant trash cans in certain parts of the city.

When another neighborhood in Central Florida last year asked residents to voluntarily switch to bear-resistant trash cans, complaint calls dropped by more than 90 percent, Workman said.

Residents who disregard the bear protections will face fines starting at $250 with their second offense.

(Editing by David Adams, Letitia Stein and Jim Loney)

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