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The Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Inc. (WFF) has authorized a $100,000 study of the state^s black bear population, funded by the proceeds from the "Conserve Wildlife" license plates which feature the species. The Florida Legislature authorized creation of the foundation in 1988 and later approved the Conserve Wildlife license plate design. The license plates went on sale in 1999, and $15 from the sale of each license plate goes to the foundation. L. Ross Morrell, the foundation^s chief executive officer, said the purpose of its grant program is to provide funding for specific projects, selected by the foundation^s board of directors and recommended by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission^s (FWC^s) board of commissioners. "With recent dramatic increases in the number of bears coming into conflicts with the human population and getting hit by vehicles, there is an urgent need for more information about bears," Morrell said. "The foundation was pleased to attach a high priority to funding the research. In fact, it^s the first research funded by the Conserve Wildlife license plates." Morrell said the foundation will consider funding for other proposals when its board meets again late next spring. Dr. Thomas Eason, who heads the FWC^s Bear Management Section, will head up bear research projects. Researchers hope to gain a more thorough understanding of the bear population by studying the genetic characteristics of fur samples collected throughout the state. "By studying the fur samples, we will be able to assemble a great deal of new data about the abundance of bears in the core populations (major population clusters)," Eason said. Scientists already have gathered hundreds of fur samples from the Ocala National Forest^s bears and plan to gather more from the state^s five other core populations during the coming year. Most of the money will pay for analysis of the fur samples. The rest will pay for equipment purchases for the study. The FWC plans to conduct this study and others to determine why black bears are getting into conflicts with the human population and what the agency should do about it. The WFF is a non-profit organization and accepts donations from private sources in addition to funds from Conserve Wildlife license plate sales. For more information about the foundation, interested persons can follow this link or call (850) 922-1066.

Uploaded: 2/14/2001