Florida’s black bear hunt begins Saturday, and protestors at rallies across the state are hoping to stop the hunt at the 11th hour. A few hundred people gathered around Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando to make their final stand Friday. “We are going to continue to show the public opposition to this hunt,” said rally organizer Bryan Wilson.
Public opposition, though, may not be enough, and legal means have already failed. The conservation group “Speak Up Wekiva” sued the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, hoping to stop the hunt, but a Tallahassee judge sided with the state agency earlier this month, calling the hunt an effective “bear management policy.”
The bear hunt will be up to seven days, with dozens of locations throughout the state. In central Florida, permitted hunters can hunt within 16 different zones, including designated forest areas in Orange, Seminole, Volusia, Lake and Marion counties. FWC capped the hunt at 320 bears statewide, and each of the state’s four ‘Bear Management Units’ has its own kill limit. The limit in central Florida is 100 bears. The hunt can be called off early, but FWC’s rules require at least a two-day hunt, even if that statewide cap is hit.
Activist Chuck O’Neil argued this could drive the Florida black bear right back onto the threatened species list. “This is an iconic species; it’s the largest land mammal in Florida. It was hunted to near extinction in the early 70s and now it’s being opened up again and the rules for this hunt are just grossly negligent,” he added. O’Neil said “Speak Up Wekiva” will have monitoring stations at each FWC check-in site to keep track of how many bears are killed.