A man did encounter a bear in Sorrento Thursday night, but it didn’t attack him as he claims, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) official said Friday afternoon.
Greg Workman, the regional public information coordinator for the FWC, said Josh Hennessey, 36, came face to face with a bear outside his home in the Oak Springs mobile-home park, east of Mount Plymouth Road, but he is now telling a different story.
"His injuries were not the result of a bear, (it was) a result of him chasing a bear and falling (in) a concrete road," Workman said.
Hennessey received cuts and scrapes to his elbow, knee and hand that required hospital treatment. He originally claimed the bear jumped out of some bushes and attacked him.
Hennessey has since made a written statement to the FWC about what really happened, Workman said, adding the man could face legal repercussions.
FWC officials could pursue charges, but only after the agency’s law enforcement team completes a case investigation, Workman said. That would include reviewing Hennessey’s original 911 call to law enforcement.
However, any encounter with the bear is a good reason why area residents should be interested in plans by the state to create seven Bear Management Units (BMUs) across the state.
"Each BMU will be managed to meet specific goals related to bear subpopulation size, potential habitat, human-bear conflicts, and potential threats, such as vehicle related mortality," according to the FWC's.
Several statewide meetings – planned several months ago – have been set up tell the public about the BMUs, with one scheduled from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on March 6 at the Olde Mill Stream RV Resort in Umatilla.
"We're doing (the) best we can to wrap our arms around the bear management issue and we can't do it alone, that's why we're asking for help from the general public and other stakeholders," Workman said prior to Thursday's incident.
The West Panhandle BMU is already up and running, according to the FWC. Local government partners and residents already are providing input on bear issues they are experiencing and ideas on how to reduce conflicts, the FWC reports.
Workman said the main concern of the BMUs is to "effectively manage and conserve Florida black bears."
"(The) FWC receives thousands of bear-related calls from people each year. Some of the calls are positive or neutral in nature, such as reporting a sighting of a bear in the area. Other calls may be more serious, like a bear accessing unsecured garbage," the FWC's website states.
Of the seven BNUs eyed statewide, the Central one, covering Lake and Sumter counties, had more bear-related calls (21,755) reported between 1990 and 2012 than the combined calls of the six other BMUs, according to the FWC.
The meetings will offer opportunities for people to sign up for a Bear Stakeholder Group (BSG) and any suggestions or ideas will be forwarded to FWC officials.
"I know that this input will help us understand local opinion as we move forward with the Bear Stakeholder Group or the BMUs," Workman said.
"A BSG is a core group of government officials, members of the public, landowners, non-profit organizations, partner agencies and businesses in a specific BMU," the FWC stated. "The BSG will meet multiple times a year to work collaboratively with FWC staff to address bear issues in their BMU."
In addition to Lake and Sumter counties, BMUs will cover several other counties, including Alachua, Bradford, Brevard, Clay, Flagler, Marion, Orange, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns and Volusia Counties.
When asked if the management areas would help prevent incidents like the one in Sorrento, Greg Workman, the regional public information coordinator for the FWC, said, "I think the BMUs will be able to help us with all aspects of bear management and possibly something like this as well."