Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida black bears may lose state protection

The number of black bears in Florida has grown since sinking to about 500 in the 1950s.

Jeff Palmer/Wild Tracks Productions

The number of black bears in Florida has grown since sinking to about 500 in the 1950s.

The Florida black bear, once hunted statewide, has been legally protected as an imperiled species since 1974.

But that may be about to change. State wildlife officials unveiled a roster Tuesday of 16 species they will recommend be removed from Florida's list of protected animals. The list includes the white ibis, snowy egret, limpkin, brown pelican — and the big one, the Florida black bear.

Wildlife commission biologists say the bears should be taken off the list next month because, while they numbered a mere 500 in the 1950s, they topped 2,000 in 2002 — the most recent year in which biologists made a statewide population estimate.

"We feel very comfortable, even though the latest data is from 2002, that the data supports that" delisting recommendation, said Dave Telesco, the state's black bear management coordinator. The final decision is up to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, meeting June 8 in St. Augustine.

If the commission votes to kick bears off the imperiled list, that does not mean hunters can immediately start loading their guns — but the state's proposed management plan says, "Explore options regarding bear hunting."

To longtime bear hunter George Robinson, 69, who keeps five bear-hunting dogs ready to roll, that's good news.

"Bears right now are totally out of hand," said Robinson, who lives near Gainesville but hunts mostly in Georgia. "They've become major, major pests."

Nuisance bear complaints have been on the rise, zooming from 1,913 in 2005 to 4,191 last year. Some were as mundane as a bears overturning garbage cans, but some were more spectacular, such as the bear that hung out around the Orlando Hard Rock Hotel's pool until it was captured. Currently, 31 of the 40 states with resident black bear populations have a hunting season.

However, Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation said taking bears off the list could be a big mistake — not because it would lead to hunting but because protecting their habitat protects a lot of other species as well.

"I think the Florida black bear is the umbrella species in terms of wildlife conservation in Florida," he said.

To Laurie Macdonald of Defenders of Wildlife, the number of nuisance bear complaints is a strong argument for protecting what's left of where bears live.

"We'd be very disappointed to see the bear delisted," said Macdonald, who has been pushing to protect bear and their habitat since the early 1990s.

Taking bears off the list because there are an estimated 2,000 of them shows an inconsistency in the new system. There are an estimated 5,000 manatees, but they will still be listed as endangered.

Some species will actually get greater protection under the new listing system. Burrowing owls, for instance, will be upgraded from "species of special concern" to "threatened."

The wildlife commission has wrestled with the problem of how to classify species in need of protection since 1995, when it first attempted to add the ibis to its list and outraged legislators cut its funding. Species on the list get more research funding and get legal protection for their habitat under a variety of city and county development ordinances.

In 2001, for instance, Pasco County commissioners rejected plans for a mobile home park because it was to be located in prime bear habitat.

The practice of hunting Florida bears came to an end because of one dead bear — because it was shot by Ben Rowe, who sat on the state's game commission.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Rowe contended after the furor over the killing reached the pages of Sports Illustrated.

Although Rowe's bear hunt was legal, his timing was abysmal. While Rowe was killing his bear, his agency was asking the federal government to add the subspecies of bears unique to Florida, Ursus americanus floridanus, to its endangered species list.

Thousands of bears once roamed every county in the state until loggers wiped out large swaths of the forest they called home. By 1974, only a few hundred were left. Their future seemed so precarious that the state banned hunting them anywhere but in Apalachicola National Forest, Osceola National Forest and in two sparsely populated counties, Baker and Columbia.

By the time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered listing them in 1992, federal officials conceded the bear could very well be headed for extinction but said they didn't have money or time to deal with the question right away.

Meanwhile, animal rights activists capitalized on the public outrage over Rowe's dead bear by mounting a campaign to ban bear hunting. Angry letters poured in. Soon the commission's own staff recommended ending the hunt because "the people of Florida are in the substantial majority opposed to the continuation of bear hunting seasons."

In 1994 the commission bowed to public opinion and banned hunting in the rest of the state. Since then, nearly 80 percent of the bear deaths have been caused by vehicles. Tedesco said about 150 bears a year are run over on Florida highways.

Craig Pittman can be reached at

Bear facts

Species: Florida black bear

Scientific name: Ursus americanus floridanus

Description: A large mammal (3 to 3.5 feet at the shoulder) with glossy black hair and a brown muzzle. The tail is short and inconspicuous. Ears are round and widely separated.

Weight: Females average about 180 pounds. Males average about 250 pounds.

Diet: Berries, acorns, fruits; such insects as yellow jackets, bees, ants and termites; and sometimes armadillos, white-tailed deer, raccoon and wild pigs.

Behavior: Florida black bears do not truly hibernate. Instead, from late December to late March, they have a period called "winter denning."

Reproduction: Every two years females give birth to one to four cubs. However, about 46 percent of young adult males do not survive to adulthood.

Habitat: A wide variety of forested communities, particularly forested wetlands. Their dens may be high in a tree, in a hollowed-out stump or on a forest floor protected by plants.

Source: Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The state's plan

To read the FWC's draft bear management plan, go to

Florida black bears may lose state protection 05/17/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 7:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”