Florida wildlife officials last year allowed a highly controversial black bear hunt. Officials had said that the state's 3,000-plus bears needed to be managed, while environmentalists argued that the real problem was not bears, but rather, habitat loss and fragmentation.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has since released updated bear estimates - it's now believed there are 4,350 in the state. Another hunt is being considered for this year.
The FWC is seeking public comment via three webinars, for which people must pre-register. The first is scheduled for tomorrow.
Susan Hargreaves, head of animal rights group Animal Hero Kids, is a longtime critic of the wildlife agency and says that the webinars are a way for it to downplay criticism — "to avoid those messy, in-person Florida citizens who show up with media, banners, sincere hard-to-ignore hero kids and audio of a bear crying from being killed slowly."
She said that at the FWC's last meeting in Jupiter, "they decreed no audio recording be allowed after the killed-with-an-auto-arrow bear's howls were played at the previous meeting."
The FWC commissioners meet five times per year, with each meeting in a different location around the state. The next one is scheduled for June 22 in Eastpoint — in the panhandle. FWC spokesperson Tammy Sapp says that at that meeting, "the Commission will be considering options for how best to move forward with comprehensive bear management efforts to balance the needs of people and bears and specifically address bear population growth, public safety in communities that bears frequent, conflicts between people and bears, and public safety issues associated with the large number of bears being struck by vehicles on Florida's highways." She did not specify when a vote on the matter would take place. The next meeting is scheduled for September 8 and 9 in Amelia Island. Last year's bear hunt took place in October.
Chuck Echenique, a hunter who sits on a board that advises the FWC on bear issues said that his group had a telephone conference today, and that he is the only pro-hunting representative. "The other stakeholders are rallying against it for personal reasons, not anything scientific."
He said his "educated guess" is that the FWC will ultimately propose a hunt again this year, but with with tweaks in the way it is run — perhaps people will have to apply for a limited amount of permits to be awarded at random, and that dates would be staggered so that hunting grounds are not crowded on a single weekend. Even if a hunt is not approved until September, he said, there would still be time to plan and issue permits for a late October or early November hunt.
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He said that the webinar was "for educational purposes and to gather information — it isn't so they don't have to deal w protesters ; they'll have to deal w protesters no matter what. It's the same cast of characters over and over again."
Here is the announcement from the FWC:
Webinars to discuss the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) bear management program are scheduled for May 26, May 31 and June 2. Each webinar will include the following topics: new bear population estimates, 2016 bear range updates, Bear Wise communities, results of the 2015 limited bear hunt, and input concerning a possible hunt in 2016. Participants will also have opportunities to ask questions.
The May 26, May 31 and June 2 webinars each begin at 6 p.m. EDT. Those interested in viewing the webinar must register for the session of their choice at: www.surveymonkey.com/r/FWCBear. Webinar coordinators request that interested individuals sign up for only one webinar to ensure availability for other participants.
“These webinars give the public an opportunity to have their questions answered in real time,” said David Telesco, bear management coordinator. “They also add to the FWC channels already in place for gathering public feedback including email, social media, phone, ASK FWC, bear stakeholder group meetings and commission meetings.”
Participation in the webinar requires computer and telephone access. Those without a computer can listen by phone. Phone registrations must be made by calling 352-372-4747 and asking for Alexis Hampton.
The webinar agenda and other details will be available at MyFWC.com/Bear. For more information, contact Bear Management at 850-922-4330 or BearManagement@MyFWC.com.