Florida Bear Hunt: 207 Killed on First Day

Update: Florida's bear hunt has ended Sunday evening after the director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Nick Wiley, said nearly the maximum allowed number of bears were killed.

Yesterday, 207 bears were killed in the first day of Florida's 2015 bear hunt.

Two of four "bear management units" — regions where bears are allowed to be killed — were closed, since the number of bears killed in those areas had reached the "harvest quota" (i.e., maximum) set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Ninety-nine bears were killed in the Central BMU (where the quota was 100) and 81 in the East Panhandle (where the quota was less than half that — 40). 

FWC spokeswoman Tammy Sapp wrote in a media update that "the harvest success in the East Panhandle BMU, while higher than expectations, is an indicator of the region’s increasing bear population."

Activists with the group Speak Up Wekiva asked the FWC in the evening to stop the hunt "in order to avoid irreversible damage to the species," but at 9 p.m., the FWC announced that the hunt would continue in the North BMU, where only 12 bears were killed yesterday (the quota there is 100) and the South BMU, where 15 had been taken (the quota there is 80). 

Hunters have 12 hours from the time of kill to bring the dead bear to a check station, where FWC staff weigh it and take samples of teeth for research. 

The FWC set a total harvest quota of 320 bears to be killed; however, hunters are supposed to check only after 9 each night, so hunters will continue to hunt until 30 minutes after sundown tonight regardless of whether the quota is reached earlier in the day. The FWC has acknowledged that more than 320 bears may be killed due to these logistics. 

The state sold a total of 3,778 permits to hunt bears — more than the estimated 3,200 bears in the state.  Bear permit sales totaled more than $376,900, and the FWC said that "plans call for using that to help fund abatement of human/bear conflicts through comprehensive waste management efforts in Florida."

Some activists were concerned that lactating bears had been killed and brought to check stations, meaning their babies had been orphaned; however, the FWC has said that the hunt was timed so that cubs would be nine months old and could survive. (As we explained in this week's cover story, cubs typically leave their mothers when they are more than a year old.) 

Robert Ruderman, of the group Animal Hero Kids, said, "The Florida black bear hunt is a well-calculated, thinly disguised power play by right-wing Governor Rick Scott and his faithful servants on the FWC Commission at the behest of powerful special interests; namely, the gun and hunting industries and lobbies, influential land developers, and wealthy trophy hunters." 

Hunters, meanwhile, were upset that two bear-hunting areas had been closed; they had paid for permits that guaranteed a minimum of two days of hunting. A person named Ryan Fitzgerald posted a copy of a receipt on the FWC's hunting Facebook page, HuntFlorida. Some hunters said they deserved refunds. 

Here are some photos and video from the hunt yesterday: 

Tyler Murray posted a video of killing a bear on YouTube, where he wrote that the bear "came straight to us" after being shot:

A receipt from a hunting license: 
Hunters were allowed to "field dress" the bear — i.e., remove its internal organs, in the field. 

Activists monitored the hunt, and FWC staff checked in bears:

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Deirdra Funcheon