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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

End the black bear hunt, Hillsborough County commissioners demand

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners on Thursday took a symbolic but united stance against the state’s black bear hunt.

In a 6-0 vote, commissioners approved a resolution and letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission opposing future hunts.

The action came at the request of Commissioner Stacy White, a self-described “avid outdoorsman” and hunter. White, a conservative who represents east Hillsborough, said he couldn’t “find any scientific data to suggest bears are at a population saturation point" that necessitated a hunt.

While the resolution has no power over the FWC, conservationists and activists filled the room to push commissioners to speak out against it. That included Megan Sorbo, the 10-year-old environmentalist who has become a mini-celebrity as she has traveled across the state with a pink stool and a patient plea against the bear hunt.

Sorbo and dozens of others broke out into applause and cheers when the commission voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. Commissioner Al Higginbotham was not in attendance Thursday.

Last year's bear hunt, the first in more than two decades, ended after just two days because the 320 bear limit was nearly reached. It was supposed to last a week.

A handful of people spoke in favor of continuing the hunt, including a representative from the FWC, arguing it was an important population control tool. One person warned the commission that black bears could soon come to Hillsborough County, bringing an “apex predator” to the Tampa Bay area.

White rebuffed that as “absolutely, unequivocally false,” noting that the bear’s diet is overwhelmingly plant-based.

“I would welcome the opportunity to have a black bear population here in the county,” White said.

This story is developing.

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Here’s the resolution that commissioners approved:

WHEREAS, hunting is a popular pastime in the State of Florida with deer, turkey, and feral hogs being commonly hunted species; and

WHEREAS, each of the above mentioned species have sustainable population counts with habitats that are actively managed for purposes of maintaining a sustainable hunting resource. In fact, because feral hogs are an invasive species, the hunting of them provides for a benefit to our native ecosystems; and

WHEREAS, even the American alligator, which was once listed on both the Federal and State endangered species lists, now has a Florida population totaling over one million, which provides for a sustainable hunting resource; and

WHEREAS, certain migratory birds and multiple other species serve as sustainable hunting resources for sportsmen across the State of Florida; and

WHEREAS, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners supports hunting, in so long as it is done legally and sustainably; and

WHEREAS, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners does not support hunting activity that is illegal or involves unsustainable resources; and

WHEREAS, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners supports the conservation of native Florida ecosystems and wildlife, so that they may be enjoyed by generations to come; and

WHEREAS, the Florida black bear has a state population of only approximately 4,500, which are generally confined to fragmented ecosystems. In fact, the Florida black bear was a State-listed threatened species as recently as the year 2012; and

WHEREAS, the Florida black bear hunt seems to place the needs of particular interest groups above those of a vulnerable species that does not currently constitute a sustainable hunting resource; and

WHEREAS, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners questions both the rationale and supporting data used by the State to advocate for a black bear hunt in Florida;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE BOARD OF COUNTY

COMMISSIONERS OF HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FLORIDA, AS FOLLOWS:

Section 1. That the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners opposes an open hunting season on Florida black bear at this time given the current population count, current fragmented habitat conditions, concerns regarding conservation efforts, and concerns regarding the methodology, and supporting data, used to justify the hunt.

Section 2. That this Resolution shall take effect immediately upon passage.

[Last modified: Thursday, June 2, 2016 11:34am]

    

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