Judge Hearing Arguments to Stop Florida Black Bear Hunt

Arguments are being made before a judge in an emergency hearing to stop the Florida bear hunt that is set to begin later this month. The environmental group Speak Up Wekiva has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission seeking to stop the hunt. If the hunt is allowed, it will be the first in more than two decades.

Florida's black bear was nearly extinct in the 1970s, when there were about 300 of them roaming the state. But the animal made a comeback, and now there are believed to be more than 3,000 living in Florida. The unfortunate side of the bears' population spike has been that the animals and people have had several run-ins with each other over the years.

Sometimes, the run-ins have been comical, such as when a bear crashed a toddler's birthday. At other times, it's been
more serious, like one that caused a deadly car accident. There have been a few cases in which a Florida bear has either shown aggression toward someone or attacked them. Several bears have been put down as a result

Several laws have been put in place, such as having specific neighborhoods use bear-proof trash cans and educating people to not feed bears when they see one. 

The FWC held public hearings and discussed at length whether to revive the bear hunting laws. Earlier this year, it was decided that it was appropriate to lift the ban, since the bear's population was at an acceptable number. Critics have argued that the FWC is using numbers from 2012 and that it's not known exactly how many bears there are now, in 2015.

The FWC lifted the ban with certain restrictions. The hunt, which is scheduled to start October 24, is to last only a week. The commission also set the limit of bears to be hunted at 320. Since the announcement, the FWC has sold more than 2,000 bear hunting licenses.

But groups like Speak Up Wekiva fear that more than 320 bears might be killed in the hunt and argue that the FWC is supposed to conserve and protect Florida wildlife, not endorse the hunting of animals. The group says that allowing the hunt is not backed by scientific data.

Fort Lauderdale-based South Florida Wildlands Association (SFWA) agrees.

"FWC's reopening of recreational bear hunt is not supported by science as a way of dealing with 'nuisance bears' in residential neighborhoods," Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the SFWA, told New Times in an email.

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.

Moreover, the FWC has said on its own website that "hunting alone will not likely reduce bear conflicts sufficiently in urban and suburban areas."

So on Thursday, Tallahassee Circuit Judge George S. Reynolds III will be hearing the arguments. 

Another bear hunt is expected to go down in Southwest Florida in 2016. The state has appealed to Big Cypress National Preserve in hopes the FWC will allow bear hunting there next year. 
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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph