As hunters strap on their guns and ammo to venture into the woods Saturday for Florida's impending bear hunt, anti-hunting activists will also gather their gear: cameras. As of yesterday, the number of hunters had surpassed 3,000 — nearly a hunter for every one of the estimated 3,200 bears in the state.
Worried that hunters will break rules, or that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will not accurately monitor the hunt, activists intend to document what they see, count the dead bears, and blow air horns when the quota of 320 bears has been reached so that hunters in the woods will know when to stop.
Christopher Murphy is an Orlando-area activist associated with Speak Up Wekiva, a nonprofit that is suing FWC for allowing the hunt. Murphy says that from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, he'll be at one of 33 check stations around the state where hunters are supposed to bring dead bears to be tagged.
"Every time they bring a corpse in, we will photograph it," he says. "We aren't confident the FWC is going to keep an accurate count. We want to do that and make sure it's all in compliance."
Speak Up Wekiva, in a call for hunt monitors, outlined concerns about the hunt:
1) The FWC does not have any way to effectively enforce that those hunting black bears have a permit to do so. There are no check-in stations where a hunter needs to show his/her permit before entering a wildlife management area.
2) The FWC does not have any way to insure that hunters bring their kill to a check station to be included in the count for the total "harvest objective."
3) Although the rules say no female should be killed in the presence of cubs, there is no feasible way of the FWC monitoring this. There are no provisions being made to locate orphaned cubs before they starve to death or are killed crossing a road.
4) Once the "harvest objective" is reached, there is no systematic way of spreading the word to hunters in the woods that the hunt has been called off.
5) There is no systematic way to insure that bears that are shot but not killed are included in the total of the "harvest objective."
Activists like Julie Hauserman remain dismayed at the hunt —- but a legal challenge failed to stop it earlier this month, and hunters have the go-ahead. Hauserman noted that while the hunt rules don't allow hunters to bait bears with food, do allow hunters " to spread special bear-attracting scents and powders in the woods— which IS baiting." she said.
Still, Murphy says that they won't get in the way of hunters. Activists who have been organized through Speak Up Wekiva have been discouraged from bringing signs, causing a ruckus, or even conversing with hunters lest an altercation occur. Protestors are advised to stay out of the woods and away from stray bullets.
"Hunt sabotage" became popular in England in the 1960s when activists followed fox hunters into woods and made loud noises to scare away animals. But there was a backlash, and so-called "hunter harassment" laws were subsequently passed.
Florida statutes state that "A person may not intentionally, within a publicly or privately owned wildlife management or fish management area or on any state-owned water body:
(a)Interfere with or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish, game, or nongame animals by another.
(b)Attempt to disturb fish, game, or nongame animals or attempt to affect their behavior with the intent to prevent their lawful taking by another."
Any violation is a second-degree misdemeanor.
Still, an anti-hunting movement seems to have gained steam in America since the killing this summer of Cecil the Lion by American dentist Walter Palmer. Online, Facebook pages from Bear Defenders and Hunt Saboteurs, which also opposes an impending bear hunt in New Jersey, is selling t-shirts to support Speak Up Wekiva. The American Hunt Saboteurs Association suggests that activists scour woods prior to the hunt and look for feed stations. Some advocate gentler tactics like calling for pastors to speak out and people to write letters. Yet some online commenters have suggested they would make a citizens' arrest if they saw anyone hunting illegally.
Ken Moy, of an online Facebook group called Hunt the Hunters, says that his team consists of people around the world working 24/7 to shame hunters. "Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air France, KLM, IAG Cargo and Iberia banned trophy transportation in light of the Cecil controversy. But most important is Delta airlines. Big-game trophies now banned on Delta include lions, tigers, elephants and rhinos," he says.
But he also points out that hunters rarely change and some even started groups attacking anti-hunting activists, like "A Bullet for Every ARA Troll and "ARA's are Atheists, Frauds,
Hunters have been complaining that activists obtained from the state the list of people who have applied for bear hunt licenses —- a public document that includes email addresses — and that they have been harassed.
YouTube has no shortage of videos that show what's it like to hunt bear, including the bear's "death moan."
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