'We risk decimating the population': Concerns, questions grow as Florida considers another bear hunt

Calls for a bear hunt are making a comeback in Florida. The debate is back in the spotlight after people have had several close encounters with bears recently all across the state.   

Franklin County’s sheriff says it’s time to bring back the bear hunt before someone gets hurt. 

Black bears have been spotted in trees, backyards, and even at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.   

"Oh my!, said Tameka Lewis who says she’s grateful she hasn’t had an encounter with a bear. "I couldn’t imagine a bear being in Florida like that in a city. No, that’s for the backwoods scenery!"  

Sheriff A.J. Smith is calling on state leaders to do something about the bear population around the state. 

The last state bear hunt was back in 2015. The hunt was supposed to last a week in four parts of the state. Officials wanted to kill 320 bears, but the hunt was called off after two days because the bear death count quickly reached 304.  If the state did bring back a hunt, people have questions.

"Are we going to be hunting in Viera? Would it be out in the wetlands? You know, you’d really have to look at the impact as a whole," said Jonathan Hughes who thinks humans need to understand new construction is constantly invading the animal’s habitat. 


Lewis, who’s lived in Florida her whole life, thinks there could be some benefit to a hunt but understands some may not want to harm the animal. 

"You know, whoever wants to kill them, let them trap and hunt them," she added. "And those who want to save them, trap and locate them." 

Wildlife rescuers are worried about talks of a hunt resurfacing. 

"You have an increase in human-bear interactions, and the temptation is to assume the problem is one of the bear population," said Takis Pepe who’s a rescuer with Wild Florida Rescue. 

The non-profit saves and rehabilitates wild animals in danger all throughout Brevard County. He says bears were removed as a threatened species back in 2012 and thinks a hunt could have catastrophic consequences on the species' recovery. 

"If we get that wrong, we risk decimating the entire bear population," he added. 

The FWC tells FOX 35 in a statement: "Bear management staff continue to be active in Franklin County to help educate and share information with residents on ways to prevent conflicts with bears. FWC staff are working closely with the community and local officials on solutions to help them address any human/bear conflicts."  

While bear encounters are on the rise, talks of the potential hunt are still in the early stages. The governor does plan to meet with officials in Franklin County on Thursday to talk about their issues. Other sheriffs in Central Florida declined FOX 35’s interview requests saying they will leave bear management up to the FWC.