No Black Bear Hunt This Year in Florida

In a 4-3 vote last night in the small Panhandle town of Eastpoint, the seven-member Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) resolved that there will not be a bear hunt this year.

State officials said that by  holding off on a hunt this year, they will have more time to develop innovative ways to reduce human-bear conflicts, an option that was vigorously mentioned during the more-than-eight-hour meeting.

Commissioner Ron Bergeron said during the meeting that even though staff scientists recommended a hunt proceed and had good science backing up their opinion, by waiting one more year for even more complete data, "we would have the highest level." Despite holding off, he said that he supported hunters: "Hunters over my lifetime have become great conservationists." 

Commissioner Aliese Priddy, who supported moving forward with a hunt this year, said she was worried that the group heralded staff as wonderful, but then ignored their recommendation. "I really can't recommend a delay because I'm fairly certain that this time next year, when we're discussing a bear hunt in 2017, what we're going to hear is reasons why we need to delay it one more year... Our decision can't be  a political one and it can't be an emotional one. It's got to be based on science."

Commissioner Brian Yablonski stressed that hunting was an essential part of conservation but decided that while "99 percent of the time science will guide me, there are other factors, too... I don't think it hurts to wait a year."   

Commissioner Robert Spottswood worried that the postponement would put the agency in the same indecisive spot next year.

“Our agency will continue to work with Floridians, the scientific community, and local governments as our focus remains balancing the needs of Florida’s growing bear population with what’s best for families in our state,” said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley, who helps administer the Commission’s policies, after the vote. “I would like to thank all seven of our commissioners for their leadership on this important issue.”

Though officials say the decision comes with the caveat that a bear hunt may be considered in 2017 “as an important conservation activity to control Florida’s growing bear population,” animal rights activists are elated that zero bears will be “harvested” this year.

“People coming together can make a difference, and we saved the bears from being hunted this year,” said Adam Sugalski, the campaign director of Stop the Florida Bear Hunt. “Grassroots efforts and social pressure influenced this resolution.”

Jeff Geragi, the president of the Animal Activists Network, told New Times that members of his group  "are ecstatic over the news that the bear hunt will not happen this year. This is a clear example how smart and dedicated activism can succeed,” he said. “This is a true victory; hundreds of bears will be saved because of the cooperative effort of the activist community.”

Meanwhile, on an online hunting forum, hunters lamented the decision. One said that "The Anti's got what they wanted based on emotion.Your favorite game species will be next." 

Another commented, "So the anti's act like crazy loons, Probably sent death threats and a ton of hate mail... and they win. The hunters provided facts, data and science. acted professional and respectful... And lost." 

To better deal with trashcan vandalism, a nuisance often cited by proponents of the hunt, the FWC has partnered with WastePro to quickly provide affordable bear-resistant trashcans to residents. Tammy Sapp, the communication manager for the FWC, said the agency is poised to also invest $825,000 in innovations that further minimize human-bear conflicts in the state. 

Here's a link to video of yesterday's meeting.