Officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) yesterday approved a one-week black-bear hunting season this October — even though the agency does not have an official estimate of the bear population.
Activists are devastated, to say the least.
"The Florida black bear was just removed from the endangered list a few years ago, and now all of a sudden it's OK to kill off 20 percent of the population? It doesn't make sense, especially when FWC admitted themselves that reducing the population does not reduce conflicts with humans," said Wendy King, who attended a demonstration in West Palm Beach earlier this week to protest the hunt.
In 1974, FWC officials listed the Florida black bear as a threatened species. This protected status prevented the public from hunting the vulnerable bears, helping them to make considerable population gains despite increasing habitat loss.
According to an FWC map, Florida black bears live throughout the state with populations "in 6 core areas (Eglin, Apalachicola, Osceola, Ocala, St. Johns, and Big Cypress) and 2 remnant areas (Chassahowitzka and Glades/Highlands)."
In 2002, the black bears numbered about 3,000. Officials believe the bear population now far exceeds that 13-year-old estimate, though no new official population estimate will be finalized until next summer.
Critics cite this uncertainty as a reason not to approve the hunt.
Still, since officials no longer believe the bears face imminent extinction and believe the population is growing, and since they removed the bear's protected status in 2012, FWC officials now believe it more important to "manage" the bear population rather than protect the species.
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FWC officials have said a fifth of the bear population is expendable (even though a fifth of what number, they can't definitively say). The main reason commissioners approved the hunt is because it could be used to reduce the number of bears in suburban and urban areas and, in doing so, curb human and bear conflicts.
However, critics say these kinds of interactions could be effectively limited if people better disposed of their trash, which bears seek out as sources of food. They are also confused why the state has approved this massacre of vulnerable bears when there has not been a reported human death by bears in decades and attacks are extremely rare.
Although reports of bears' eating trash or colliding with cars sometimes make headlines, even Florida officials admit that bear attacks are exceedingly uncommon.
FWC's website states that even after the hunt happens, human and bear interactions will be inevitable, especially when many trash bins continue not to be secured.