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Florida's Bear Hunt Ends With 298 Killed

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Update, 2:30 p.m.: In a news conference with Diane Eggeman, who is in charge of hunting for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and Dr. Thomas Eason, the agency's bear expert, the pair said that the total number of bears killed in the hunt had risen to 298 as more reports came in.

Eggeman said that "our intent is to have a hunt annually" but that "everything is on the table at this point."  

Eason noted that law enforcement officers had been patrolling the woods as well as check stations, and Eggeman said that the agency was investigating some incidents of baiting of bears and hunting without a license but that overall, "compliance was high, and it went well." 

Original story: 

The director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Nick Wiley, declared Sunday evening that the state’s weeklong bear hunting season had closed due to hunters having killed nearly the maximum allowed number of bears.

Though the FWC had set the limit of quota bears at 320, by the end of the first day at least 207 had already been “harvested” across the state. By the afternoon of the second day, that number swelled to 295. Because hunters have 12 hours after making their kill to check in a bear, it was possible that number could grow slightly higher. 

Though the hunt was initially scheduled to last a week, FWC officials chose to end it after two days because they did not want to risk exceeding the limit. On the first day of hunting, 81 bears were killed in the Panhandle — more than twice the limit of 40 that had been set for the region.

FWC officials noted that the notoriously timid bears do not have the experience to better evade camouflaged hunters because the species has not been legally hunted since 1994. 

"The bears haven't been hunted in 21 years, so they're relatively naive," FWC’s bear expert Thomas Eason said. 

Hunters, some armed with bows and arrows, others guns, killed bear son both public and private properties. Weeks before the season began, hunters scouted locations on foot, with trail cameras, and using Google Earth. 

Activists, however, were upset with the hunt. 

Frank Jackalone, the organizing manager of the conservationist group the Sierra Club, wrote to Wiley on Saturday declaring that the high number of bear deaths showed the state's "predictions that hunters would find it difficult to track and kill Florida black bears were dead wrong, leaving science trumped by sloppy guesswork."

Many activists turned their attention to orphaned cubs. Some of the shot bears were adult, lactating females. Though the rules of the hunt prohibited the killing of mother bears if she had cubs with her, lone females were considered fair game. "Any cubs would currently be 8-9 months old and they would be old enough to survive on their own," Eason said. However, the FWC's own bear management plan explains that for bears, "family dissolution usually occurs between May to July when cubs are 15 to 17 months old." 

In total, 3,779 people applied for bear hunt permits this year. Despite a lawsuit, public protests, and more than 30,000 calls and letters begging to stop it, the hunt proceeded. Activists have said they are livid that the hunt took place and are holding a demonstration in West Palm Beach to publicly shame FWC officials on October 30. 

Though the FWC believes there are around 3,200 to 3,500 black bears in the Sunshine State, that range was contrived using 13-year-old data. A new count is underway, and next year, biologists expect to have a more reliable estimate on how many bears live in Florida.

Bear check-in stations remained opened across the state until noon today.

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