State Puts Possible Bear Hunt On Hold

April 20, 2017

State game commissioners agreed Wednesday not to hold a bear hunt for at least two years, over the objections of hunters who decried the delay as giving in to “bleeding hearts.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, after more than four hours of emotional testimony from hunters and animal-rights activists, narrowly supported a staff contention that public support isn’t as high as desired for a repeat of a controversial 2015 hunt.

“A hunt is consuming, it is consuming to this agency all the way around,” Chairman Brian Yablonski said. “And the benefit that we get with this species at this moment in time, I don’t know if it’s worth the consumption that our team is going to go through and we’re all going to go through.”

The delay would allow staff members to complete an ongoing 10-year bear management plan which could be completed in two to three years.

Commissioner Liesa Priddy said she wasn’t concerned that a majority of Floridians don’t support a bear hunt.

“There’s really no scientific reason whatsoever not to have a hunt,” Priddy said. “We can’t substitute politics for science. And if we don’t approve a hunt today, we’re really just throwing the science that we’ve gathered out the window.”

Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said the agency’s science is “rock solid” on the side of a hunt. But, he said “we need more time” to work on non-lethal bear management practices. He pointed, in part, to research that shows far less support among Floridians for bear hunting than for hunting in general.

“The thing that troubles me the most in the social dynamic and social science is the gap between a 70 percent support for hunting and 48 percent support for bear hunting,” Wiley said. “We’ve talked to people that have done this research, and they said that (gap) is troubling. Those numbers are not where you want to be.”

The numbers were amassed in a survey conducted in November that also found 43 percent of Floridians oppose a hunt.

Wiley said the state “learned a lesson” from the 2015 hunt, which was the first in more than two decades. That year, 304 bears were killed during a planned weeklong hunt that was cut short after two days when the quota was quickly reached.

The commission last year narrowly voted against a hunt, giving expanded non-lethal efforts time to take hold, after commission biologists had recommended a more restrictive hunt.

Wiley’s proposal Wednesday drew a string of hunters, many in orange shirts, to tell commissioners not to set policies based on public perception.

“What’s next, who are we going to protect from the bleeding-heart liberals, are we going not kill off the bacteria on over-ripe bananas?” said Byron Maharrey of Palm Springs. “This isn’t a popularity vote.”

Chuck Echenique, a hunter from Tampa, suggested the agency spend money on pro-hunting education instead of on getting people to use bear-proof trash containers.

“Let those communities that choose to move into those areas … pay for their own trash cans,” Echenique said.

The bear population in Florida has grown from 300 to 500 in the late 1970s to 2,700 in 2002 and 4,050 when updated last year.

Thomas Eason, director of the commission’s habitat and species conservation division, said Florida black bears are in the middle of a population expansion that is likely to continue.

“Bears are thriving in Florida, they’re doing well,” Eason said. “They’re continuing to grow in numbers.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — pointing to the state’s conservation efforts — announced that the Florida black bear didn’t warrant being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as requested by a number of groups and individuals, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Stop The Florida Bear Hunt.

Animal-rights proponents view the desire to hunt bears as a “trophy” thrill.

Megan Sorbo, an 11-year-old from Orlando, told state wildlife commissioners on Wednesday the bear population can be managed humanely, including the use of bear sterilization.

“You still oversee the most precious part of our state to me, our wildlife,” Sorbo said. “The wildlife belongs to all of us, yet to no one. Therefore, public opinion should be a factor in your decision and all options considered.”

The growth in the bear population comes as the number of calls and incidents involving bears has declined the past three-years.

The drop is attributed in part to the 2015 hunt and the removal of 112 bears that year for risk of public safety. Prior to that year, the agency removed an average of 36 bears a year for that purpose.

Also, the decline is attributed to an increase in natural food available to bears. The agency noted that an increase in acorns on the ground last fall could mean bears are spending more time foraging for acorns than rummaging in human trash.

The agency has also taken a more active role in counties where bear-human incidents and calls have been prevalent — Lee and Collier in the Southwest Florida; Marion, Lake, Orange, Seminole, Putnam and Volusia in Central and Northeast Florida; and Leon, Wakulla, Gulf, Franklin, Santa Rosa, Walton, Okaloosa, and Bay in Northwest Florida.

“The hunt is a relatively small part of our bear program,” Eason said.

But it has drawn the most attention.

The agency received $825,000 for the current fiscal year to help residents in 11 counties get bear-resistant trash cans. The money was raised through licenses issued for the 2015 hunt and from proceeds of the Conserve Wildlife license plate.


6 Responses to “State Puts Possible Bear Hunt On Hold”

  1. Grand Locust on April 20th, 2017 8:30 pm

    “the bear start eating people in the cities again”

    I am really hoping to be informed about these Florida bears eating people in the cities again, but it probably is true because Grizzly Bears did Flee America’s Classrooms Following Confirmation Of Betsy DeVos … some bears were undoubtedly there hoping to eat small children. They now realize it will be easier to eat people in Florida cities. I guess those black bears on Ward Basin in East Milton who are eating out of garbage cans did not realize they were outside the city limits of Milton, and they would fare better if they would eat some people coming out of the hardware store,

  2. Rocky on April 20th, 2017 5:38 pm

    Not at all surprising… Bottom line is, you aren’t going to see a bear season until the bear start eating people in the cities again, and the FWC and the Governor’s office has enough heat put on them to open the season back up.

    The Black Bear Management Plan stated a hunting season wouldn’t be considered until 2021, so it was actually amazing to see the 2015 season. However, numerous bear attacks in 2013 – 2014 caused the Governor’s office to catch a little heat, and amazingly, we had a bear season. The lack of bear attacks of late, cause by the removal of the 112 problem bear, has taken the heat off the governor’s office.

    I guess we need to publicize the next FWC meeting a little better and ask EVERY HUNTER IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA to show up, so the FWC understands that there are more of us out here interested in the bear hunt than they might think.

  3. jp on April 20th, 2017 5:33 pm

    “There’s really no scientific reason whatsoever not to have a hunt,” Priddy said. “We can’t substitute politics for science. And if we don’t approve a hunt today, we’re really just throwing the science that we’ve gathered out the window.”

    Why not just poll a kindergarden class after watching a rerun of Gentle Ben?

    What is the cost of another study for two years + $825,000 and another proposed $1,000,000 for trash cans?

    Time to contact Governor Rick Scott:
    The FWC’s seven Commissioners are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate to five-year terms. Their constitutional duty is to exercise the “…regulatory and executive powers of the state with respect to wild animal life and fresh water aquatic life and shall also exercise regulatory and executive powers of the state with respect to marine life, except that all license fees and penalties for violating regulations shall be as provided by law.”

  4. Sedition on April 20th, 2017 5:11 pm

    A little disappointing, but bet your boots that it will return eventually. Personally, I’d rather err on the side of caution and delay it a year or so to make sure their numbers and health are strong. The hunt will be neccessary eventually.

  5. Don Neese on April 20th, 2017 12:10 pm

    “Megan Sorbo, an 11-year-old from Orlando, told state wildlife commissioners on Wednesday the bear population can be managed humanely, including the use of bear sterilization”

    AN 11 YEAR OLD?????!!!! So let me get this right…We now let 11 yr olds and social media dictate our hunting laws?

    So an 11 year old wants the FWC to perform a vasectomy on BALOO and all his kin. I don’t know if Baloo would approve:)

  6. just sayin on April 20th, 2017 8:15 am

    May the fleas of a Thousand black bears infest these animal rights activists.

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