Scientists Asks That Florida Black Bears Be Declared Endangered

What's the truth about Florida black bears? State officials last year believed populations to be so high that they authorized a bear hunt. But today, a coalition of scientists and nonprofit groups is attempting to override the state's position. The group sent a scientific petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking that the Florida black bear be added to the federal endangered species list . 

In 1974, the Florida black bear was deemed a "threatened" species, meaning it was at a high risk of extinction. But after the animals had been on the list for 38 years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found that protections had helped populations grow from hundreds to more than 3,000. The "threatened" designation was removed in 2012. 

It seemed like good news at first. It meant that for the first time in decades, the Florida black bear had regained a healthy population. The state approved a ten-year bear management plan aimed at maintaining populations. But after a series of human/bear run-ins and over objections and protests throughout the state, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission sanctioned a bear hunt that took place last October. Over the two-day hunt, more than 300 bears were killed. 

According to the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, in addition to the bears killed in the sanctioned bear hunt, at least another 292 Florida black bears died from habitat loss and road kill in 2015.

“The Florida black bear almost blinked out of existence once on our watch,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Years of out-of-control sprawl have pinched the Florida black bear between roads and homes, threatening its long-term survival, but the Endangered Species Act can provide a roadmap to make sure the bear has a place in Florida’s future.”

Scientists who joined the petition accuse the state of having mismanaged the bear population by authorizing the hunt. If the Florida black bear is placed back on the Endangered Species List, the FWC could not sanction another bear hunt.

According to the center, scientists joining the petition include Drs. Stuart Pimm, Adrian Treves, Miha Krofel, Paul Paquet, Guillaume Chapron, and Robert Wielgus. The local, state, and national organizations joining the petition include Animal Hero Kids, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Animal Welfare Institute, Big Cat Rescue, Center for Biological Diversity, CompassionWorks International, Environmental Action, Florida League of Women Voters, the Humane Society of the United States, Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, Lobby for Animals, Preserve Our Wildlife, Sierra Club Florida Chapter, South Florida Wildlands, Speak Up Wekiva, and Stop the Florida Bear Hunt. The Everglades Law Center coauthored the petition. 

Activists have pointed out that Florida black bear populations are already at risk from being hit by cars. Since 1990, there was been a drastic uptick in the number of bears killed by cars. There were 33 bears killed in 1990, 285 in 2012, and 170 in 2014.

As human and bears are living closer and closer together, there are more instances of run-ins — especially at human garbage and food sources. This creates “problem bears,” or bears who become too comfortable and close to humans. Last year, Florida wildlife managers killed 108 “problem bears.”

Florida’s human population is expected to increase by nearly 50 percent by 2060. Activists explain this only threatens the bear population more. As urban sprawl usurps the bears’ habitat, their populations will only shrink further.

But by placing the Florida black bear back on the Endangered Species List, the Florida black bear would be designated critical safeguarded habitats.

“The Endangered Species Act exists to save imperiled species like the Florida black bear, which has become isolated in ever-smaller pockets of habitat,” said Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director. “At a time when the bear faces the threats of encroaching development, busy roads, and a disastrous trophy hunt, the law must step in to protect this iconic species from an untimely demise.”

Here's the petition:

Florida Black Bear Petition