9 Investigates state's plan to sell prime bear habitat real estate

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SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. —

9 Investigates discovered the state's effort to sell off some prime real estate in central Florida is targeting prime bear habitat.

The state’s decision to unload surplus land for development close to the Wekiwa Springs State Park has nearby residents worried that more people in the area will bring more close calls with the many black bears already roaming the woods.

"We have a friendly bear.  See him in our tree house?" Seminole County homeowner Randall Turner can be heard saying in cellphone video.

Turner sounds calm in the video showing a bear on his property, just feet away from his home, but that’s because it wasn't the first black bear he and his wife Emily have run into on their property.

"From the time I lived here 20 years ago, we never saw bears, and now we see bears every other day," Emily Turner told Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Christopher Heath.

The Turners live off Markham Woods Road. Where their land ends, state-protected land begins.

There are dozens of acres of prime bear habitat doubling as the entrance to Wekiva, and now it's for sale.

“This is three miles from the bear incident," said Emily Turner.

The incident she referred to happened last December when a woman was attacked and seriously injured by a bear near her home. It was a rare, violent encounter that has brought the conflict between development and bear habitats in central Florida to the forefront again.

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials trapped and killed two bears following the attack, but not the bear responsible for mauling the woman.

In recent years, Florida’s bear population has rebounded. During 2010, only 13 bear encounters were reported in the Turner’s ZIP code in Seminole.

Since January 2013, however, there have been 133.

The land the state wants to sell comprises two parcels covering nearly 27 acres.

It may be prime bear habitat, but it's also valuable, with combined market value of just less than $4 million.

And with homes in the area selling for well over $1 million, developers are lining up to buy.

“The county feels that it should remain the way it is today," said Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari.

Seminole County, which would expand its tax base if the land were sold and developed, is actually opposed to the sale.

During the 1990s, the county bought the land and then gave it to the state to manage.

Commissioners such as Dallari said the state should either give the land back to the county or keep it just the way it is.

"The Wekiva Basin is very sensitive land,” Dallari said. “It needs to be protected."

State environmental protection officials said they will meet again this month to re-evaluate the land in Seminole County, as well as the hundreds of other acres across it plans to sell.

Seminole officials insist the county will not buy back the land back because it gave the acreage to the state years ago.