Wildlife encounter prompts policies on safe coexistence

The limpkin is a tropical wetlands bird protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

When Debra Bara moved from Atlanta to her Suntree home in May 2018, she was stunned by a discovery in her new backyard.

She found a limpkin, a tropical wetlands bird protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It appeared to be mortally wounded. She had just heard it making mating calls earlier that day. After carefully picking up the bird and placing it in her front yard, she called the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, which then called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Bara is not alone in her experience with at-risk wildlife in the area. She said she heard of another situation in which a nesting eagle died after consuming a poisoned rat. These incidents, along with concerned comments from neighbors Bara had seen on the social network Nextdoor, prompted her to inquire whether the Suntree Master Homeowners Association could develop and implement a set of wildlife coexistence policies.

“People move here from other areas, and they’re not used to seeing wildlife so close in proximity to their home,” Bara said.

Soon after her inquiry, Suntree Master HOA recruited Bara to serve as a community resident on the ad hoc committee that would generate a set of Suntree Wildlife Coexistence Policies. Board members then drafted the policies in a series of meetings, Bara said.

According to SMHA general manager Todd Foley, Suntree has received many calls through the years regarding who should be responsible for handling situations pertaining to nuisance wildlife. The document specifies “universal policies for all species” as well as what to do and whom to contact in encounters with 13 species, including coyotes, alligators and bats. Much of the research for the policies was gathered from the FWC’s website.

Bara believes it’s rare for homeowners associations to expand into and address wildlife issues. In her research, she came across only one other in Harmony that has developed a framework of Community Covenants and Restrictions to promote peaceful coexistence between residents and wildlife.

Foley said he also wanted to produce a set of policies that would promote coexistence with local wildlife instead of its removal and eradication. Bara felt the same.

“The overall effort, to me, is about providing education, public awareness and resources to people to understand how we can live in this environment and appreciate our wildlife and not come into contact with it,” she said.