Children Start Billboard Campaign to Prevent Another Florida Bear Hunt

Two elementary-school-aged kids — Khendall of Jacksonville and Megan from the Orlando area (their parents asked that their last names not be used) — want to start a billboard campaign in hopes of preventing another bear hunt in Florida. 

During last year's hunt, the first in 20-odd years, 304 bears were killed.  The hunt was necessary to cull growing bear populations, according to officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which authorized the hunt even though its 2012 bear management policy, which took ten years to develop, had called for sustaining bear populations through 2022.  Critics of the hunt argued that the agency was overreacting to a spate of bear attacks on humans — none fatal — and using those as a pretext for a hunt to appease hunters. 

Khendall, a 5-year-old who has been called "Lil Bear" since he was 3, led a "Black Bear Memorial" in Orlando at the time of the 2015 hunt. 

Megan, a homeschooled 10-year-old, spoke out at an FWC commission meeting, telling commissioners that they shouldn't use the euphemism "harvest" to describe the killing of bears. 

FWC spokesperson Susan Smith tells New Times that "we are still reviewing data from 2015" but that wildlife officials last year suggested that the hunt was likely to be an annual event. Dr. Thomas Eason, the agency's bear expert, said there could be as many as 5,000 or 6,000 bears in the state — "at least 3,500." With mothers giving birth, he explained, "there are 1,200 cubs on average out there every year who will be born and turn into yearlings... Those cubs all have to go somewhere."

Last year, critics last year complained that the FWC was relying on old population estimates from 2002 to determine the number of bears in the state. The agency expects to have fresh estimates of bear populations completed this summer. 

Through a GoFundMe account and with the help of a nonprofit group called Animal Hero Kids, Khendall and Megan are trying to raise $5,000 for billboards that would say "Don't Kill the Bears." 

But don't listen to us — here's Megan talking about the "distressing idea" of a 2016 hunt. She mocks commissioners for having called it a success: "There can be no success in the killing of over 300 bears in two days with 3,778 hunters going after a kill quota of only 320 bears... They're not a resource for humans to exploit." (She researched and wrote this script herself, says Susan Hargreaves from AHK.)  

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Deirdra Funcheon