State biologists back a 'more conservative' bear hunt

Florida should hold another black-bear hunt but include more restrictions on hunters, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists recommended Friday.

However, members of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will get a menu of four options later this month about the management of Florida black bears, with the choices ranging from a hunt similar to one held last October to delaying another hunt until 2017 or prohibiting a hunt for the next several years.

Commission staff outlined the potential steps Friday.

The staff recommendation for the commission seeks to impose greater restrictions on hunters, from where they can hunt to limiting the number of hunters who could be in the field.

"Our focus will continue to be how to balance what's best for Florida's growing bear population with the safety of Florida families and our visitors," commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said in a release late Friday.

The commission, which voted 4-1 to hold the controversial bear hunt last year, will discuss the options June 22 during a meeting in the Franklin County community of Eastpoint.

In advance of the meeting, the anti-hunt group Stop The Hunt is attempting to set up at least 30 protests in cities across Florida on June 18.

Opponents of the hunt want the state to spend more on non-lethal measures to reduce human-bear conflicts, including expanding the use of bear-proof trash containers.

The staff recommendation, which is described as "more conservative" than the 2015 hunt, would also reduce the hunt to areas where human-bear conflicts are most prevalent; prohibit hunting bears when any other bears, including cubs, are present; set additional restrictions on hunting near game-feeding stations; and require hunters to tag bears immediately.

The release from the commission said the recommendation is based on input received from the public, including during a recent series of online webinars.

Among the other options, one would follow the framework for the 2015 hunt, which was the first in more than two decades. But that could also result in a higher number of bears being targeted as the agency has increased the estimated number of bears in the state.

The 2015 hunt was scheduled for seven days but ended after two days as hunters killed 304 bears. The state agency had put a 320-bear quota on the hunt and later acknowledged it "underestimated the hunter success for the first day."

The agency estimates there are now 4,220 bears in the state, up from 2,640 in 2002, which was when the previous statewide estimate was made.

The population growth has been called robust as the estimated count was as low as 300 to 500 in the 1970s, when black bears were put on the state's list of threatened species. Bears were removed from the list in 2012.

A number of local governments, including Seminole, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Volusia counties, have voiced opposition to a repeat of the 2015 hunt.


Information taken from The News Service of Florida.