Florida reopening bear-hunting

Jeffery Ritter
Jan. 26, 2015images (3)

Hunting Florida’s black bears was banned over two decades ago, but with so many close calls and reports in the media about bear attacks the Florida Wildlife Commission will be considering opening up hunting season again.

The Florida black bear was hunted to the brink of extinction in the early 1900s and by the 1950s there were an estimated 500 bears statewide. They were listed as threatened by the state in 1974 and as federally endangered in 1980. They came off the state endangered list in 2012.

Now it’s estimated there are around 3,000 black bears in the wild and the number of nuisance calls and attacks have increased dramatically. The number of service calls relating to bears reached an all-time high in 2013 with 6,667 and there were 6,312 in 2014.

“We’re at a point where bear populations are strong and expanding, and we’re having more and more conflicts, more and more killed on the highways,” FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley told News4Jax.com.

Four bear-human conflicts in the last 18 months have been covered extensively in the media have reopened the idea of beginning a bear season. The FWC has been tossing around the idea since 2012, but they are not counting on hunting being the only solution.

“It’s critically important to focus on hunting, but hunting is one tool in the toolbox,” FWC Conservation Commission Bear Conservation Division director Thomas Eason, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I hope it doesn’t decrease the focus on everything else.”

It’s the everything else that animal right and environmental groups want the FWC to keep focusing on instead of opening the season back up. The Humane Society of the United States posted its stance on its website. It says, “Instead of wasting limited time and resources on a proposal to allow a small number of trophy hunters to procure bearskin rugs, the FWC should focus its attention on helping the public avoid conflicts with bears through effective programs that address the problem at its source, such as using bear-proof trash cans.”

The Sierra Club has been one of the most outspoken opponents of bear season. Marjorie Holt from the Sierra Club of Central Florida told News 13, “While it sounds like fun for many hunters, it probably will not take care of the nuisance bears. The nuisance bears have been habituated to development and residence homes that are actually infringing upon bear habitat. So, it is important that we learn to live with them.”

The FWC will meet in Jacksonville on February 4 to consider what action to take.