Just two decades ago, Florida's black bear was nearly extinct, but now its population is back on the rise. In 1974, there were 300 to 500 in the Florida area. Now, there are believed to be more than 3,000.
Bears didn't just pick up and move to Florida because they got a better job — no, that's not a thing bear did. People have built homes in what was bear habitat, and the black bear isn't about to just up and relocate his own ass. Thus, something has to give.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission this week is talking about Florida's bear conundrum. The agency is accepting public input regarding changes to its bear-related laws and the possible revival of bear hunting in the state.
"It was time to stop hunting then, and I think it's appropriate now to start hunting bears again," said Thomas Eason, director of habitat and species conservation for the commission, before a conference room in Jacksonville packed with hunters and conservationists.
Since Tuesday, the commission has been holding meetings in Tallahassee — one of its five meetings per year — at Florida A&M University, and one of the main topics to be discussed is developing a comprehensive plan to help reduce human-bear conflicts. The meetings run through Thursday.
As the FWC explains on its website, at a February 4 commission meeting, FWC staff proposed a hunt as a possible means of managing the bear population.
At that meeting, its staff was also directed to come up with proposed changes to bear laws.
It did. The proposed changes include:
- Removing the necessity of a permit in some instances. "The FWC now allows partner agencies and other
first responders who have been trained by the FWC to scare a bear out of a neighborhood using
less-than-lethal methods without requiring a permit," a memo explains.
- Issuing permits to allow people to "take a bear for damaging property as part of a bear depredation permit program."
That means letting people kill a bear if it's messing with their property.
- "Clarifying that people do not need a permit if they are attempting to scare a bear away from people using non-lethal methods and in situations approved by FWC which are described in guidelines on MyFWC/Bear."
All of these measures would be up for adoption by the FWC at a later date.
In the meantime, people can submit comments about the War on Bears here.
If approved, a bear hunt would be the first time since 1994 the state has legalized bear hunting.
Bears and Floridians live closer to each other than ever now, which doesn't sound like it would go well and is evidenced by the numbers. Calls to wildlife officials about bears have increased by 400 percent over the past decade, and bear deaths by vehicles are on the rise. In 1990, 33 bears were killed by vehicles, compared to 285 in 2012.
Animal rights activists aren't keen on the idea of seeking out bears to kill just because they want our tasty trashed chicken bones. Most believe this is a human problem, not a bear problem. Florida has the third-biggest population of any state in the country.
"Killing bears deep in the woods who aren't causing problems is the wrong approach," said Kate McFall of the Humane Society of the United States. "Voters want humane, effective solutions to conflicts with bears."
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Late last year, a 15-year-old Florida Panhandle girl sustained injuries to her legs, back, neck, and face when she was attacked by a black bear. The bear was dragging her into the woods until the family dog attacked the bear, causing it to retreat.
For more information on Florida black bears, their threat to Floridans, and the FWC's continued plan to limit the bear attacks in Florida — or to leave a comment — visit myfwc.com/bear.
The FWC is also talking about quail hunting and whether to add coyotes to the list of animals it's prohibited to feed.