Communities considering new 'bear wise' restrictions

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Stephen Hudak

Published May 23, 2014 

Gary Kaleita drafted bear-smart HOA rules after a neighbor in Wingfield North was mauled last year.


With Seminole County leaders reluctant to impose mandates, homeowner associations plagued by Florida black bears are starting to consider new rules that would require residents to adopt so-called "bear-wise" safety practices in their neighborhoods.

One of those neighborhoods, the gated community of Wingfield North — site of the state's most vicious bear attack ever — may consider adopting new bylaws on Monday drafted by Gary Kaleita, an Orlando lawyer and a member of Wingfield's HOA board.

He's been shopping the rules to other homeowner groups in northwest Seminole County, where reaction has been mixed.

The rules would forbid feeding wild animals, require residents to keep garage doors closed, and mandate the use of "bear-resistant" trash cans — all measures suggested by experts for reducing the increasing number of human-bear conflicts. The rules would allow the HOA to fine violators.

"I think people just lived with the fact that bears were in and around the community and got into trash, said Kaleita, a resident of Wingfield North since 2006. "But thinking as a lawyer, it struck me that it would be a good idea for homeowners associations to adopt these kinds of policies to possibly limit their liability for these kinds of attacks."

Wingfield also might dip into its financial reserves to spend $16,000 to buy bear-resistant garbage cans for its 114 homes, Kaleita said.

Bears mauled two women in Seminole County in the past six months.

The first incident, deemed by wildlife officers as the worst bear attack on a human ever documented in Florida, occurred in Wingfield North when Susan Chalfant, 54, was bitten and clawed while walking two small dogs near her home.

The second occurred April 13 on Brackenhurst Place in the gated Carisbrooke subdivision when Terri Frana, 44, was attacked by a bear in her driveway. The bear had Frana's head in its mouth and tried to drag her into a wooded area behind their home before releasing her, her husband Frank Frana said. FWC has not yet released its report of the incident.

Kaleita's ideas, shared at a recent community meeting with Mike Orlando, a wildlife biologist and bear expert with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, were favorably received by the state agency that killed nine bears while investigating the two attacks.

"We all think this is great," Orlando said in an email to Kaleita that suggested some edits for his proposal.

Seminole County residents have been among the most active in reporting nuisance or problem bears to the state's wildlife hotline. Not counting calls about the bear that attacked Terri Frana in Carisbrooke, Seminole County again paced the state last month with more than 50 of the 380 complaints.

Callers included a grandfather in Sweetwater Club Estates where a bear burst through a pool screen and destroyed a refrigerator and a deputy reporting a large bear that walked into an open garage in Buckingham Estates, snatched a bag of garbage and devoured the booty while residents stood in the garage and watched.

Kaleita's proposed policies, if adopted and enforced by HOAs, could protect both bears and people, said Orlando, who has advised residents in bear-beleaguered neighborhoods to keep trash locked up, clean grills after barbecues and take in bird feeders.

"This is extremely encouraging," Orlando said.

Kaleita's draft, distributed to homeowner groups through the Markham Woods Association, a group of HOAs, is loosely based on bylaws suggested on the Internet site The proposed measures are intended to minimize human conflicts with the large omnivores and penalize those who deliberately, neglectfully or irresponsibly lure bears into neighborhoods.

Robert Turnage, president of both the Markham Woods Association and the Trilby Bend Homeowners Association in Longwood, predicted Kaleita's proposal will spark debate among HOA boards who more commonly focus on the community's appearance and amenities.

"I can see some doing it," he said. "I don't see us mandating it."

Seminole County commissioners have been reluctant to mandate rules, as well — preferring instead to mail "Be Bear Aware" safety fliers to about 25,000 homes and encouraging residents to be more responsible.

Kaleita's proposal also has homeowner groups talking about their role in finding a solution to human-bear conflicts and how they might persuade their members to change dangerous behaviors, said Jerry Blackburn, president of the Bridgewater Neighborhood Association.

"Whether we mandate them or not, these are things that homeowners should be doing," he said of the proposed rules.

Kaleita, a partner with the Orlando firm of Lowndes Drosdick Doster Kantor & Reed, said he drafted the document after the women were mauled because he realized the county would not require residents to buy bear-resistant trash cans or mandate other rules.

The bear-resistant cans are more costly than typical garbage cans and require an additional collection fee.

Seminole County will receive $20,000 from FWC to offset the homeowners cost for the trash cans, priced at about $180 for a 64-gallon container.

County residents west of Interstate 4 — the area where 90 percent of Seminole's bear-nuisance complaints originate — can get $40 to defray the cost of a bear-resistant can or the added service fee levied by trash haulers, estimated at an extra $60 a year.

Awarded as a credit, the money is available on a first-come, first-served basis to the first 500 customers who sign up.