Black bears make the news in Florida often, mostly because our residential areas are built around where they live and garbage cans smell like food. Whether it be something funny like a bear taking a nap in someone's lanai or something not-so-funny, like a black bear attacking someone, the animals have been known to have human interaction far more frequently than most would wish.
So what's the solution? Well, if the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission votes a certain way, it's to allow people to hunt for the black bears.
On Wednesday, the FWC will be discussing and voting on black bear management policies, such as no-feeding rules and mandatory use of bear-proof garbage cans. But another solution on the docket will be whether to allow for bear hunts.
The good news for the Florida black bear is that it has been able to bounce back from near extinction in the 1970s. There are roughly 3,000 of them roaming the state. But the bad news is, they're beginning to have one too many run-ins with humans. Be it one crashing a toddler's birthday or something vastly more serious, like one that caused a deadly car accident.
The other dark side of black bear encounters is that when one attacks a person, several of them are killed as a result.
So the enforcing no-feeding and secured garbage cans policies are sound. Bears will go where the easy food source is, and no matter how many times you tell people, they're still going to feed the animals because they think it's cute. This leads to bears roaming neighborhoods and mauling people.
Some think allowing folks to hunt for black bear is also a way to go. But others, like the Fort Lauderdale-based South Florida Wildlands Association (SFWA), do not.
"Those are positive developments and are strongly supported by scientific research," Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the SFWA, said in an emailed statement. "However, the FWC is also considering reopening a recreational bear hunt. That is not supported by science as a way of dealing with 'nuisance bears' in residential neighborhoods."
And Schwartz may have a point.
According to a study by the New Jersey Fish and Game Council, recreational hunting does pretty much nothing to quell the "nuisance bears" problem.
In fact, the study, which was conducted across several national parks and cities, goes out of its way to say that nonhunting measures -- such as a no-feeding policy and bear-proof garbage cans -- are far more effective ways to deter bears from having contact with humans.
"The results demonstrate that at every site in which the hunting approach was evaluated, no effect in reducing the human complaints/conflicts was observed while at every site in which the nonviolent program was evaluated, the nonviolent approach was demonstrated to be markedly effective in reducing human complaints/conflicts," the study concludes.
The FWC itself says that "hunting alone will not likely reduce bear conflicts sufficiently in urban and suburban areas."
"Bears and other wildlife that linger in neighborhoods are a symptom of the problem of wildlife having easy access to human-provided foods. If the unsecured food source -- garbage, compost piles, livestock, and pet/livestock/bird foods -- are eliminated, the problem is eliminated. Bears will move out of the neighborhood to search out another food source," the FWC says on its page about living with the black bears among us.
The SFWA is encouraging anyone concerned about the FWC pushing bear hunting legalization through to attend the meeting in Jacksonville on Wednesday. Or probably an easier way to express your concerns is to contact the FWC directly.
The SFWA says it strongly backs the garbage-proof policy and getting the FWC involved whenever new roads and developments are proposed in places where black bears are most prevalent.