State wildlife officials have concluded there are just too many darned black bears roaming around inhabited Florida. But is that the bears' fault, or the fault of politicians who have allowed developers to pave over more of the state? And before open season is declared by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the bear is removed from the state's list of protected animals, the justification should be more compelling than a nearly 10-year-old data base.
Since 1974, when the population was estimated to be around 500 animals, the black bear has been protected on the state's imperiled species list. The protections worked, apparently too well, as the number of bears has grown to about 2,000. But the bear, once regarded as a relatively harmless citizen of nature, is now viewed by some as an intrusive pest to be culled. Although there are no documented cases of black bears attacking humans in Florida, last year 4,191 complaints were filed about the bears showing up in neighborhoods, or overturning trash cans for scraps of food. And these incidents of bear loitering and vandalism, along with a 2002 data base measuring the estimated size of its population, prompted state wildlife officials to recommend the full commission explore allowing bear hunting.
The bear is not alone on the list of animals viewed to no longer need imperiled status. The white ibis, snowy egret, limpkin and brown pelican, whose crimes against development are not entirely known, are also recommended for removal from the protected list. But it is the bear's impending fate that seems to be most unfair. Increasing development has eroded the black bear's natural habitat, a problem only to get worse as the state's growth management laws become more extinct than the woolly mammoth. Someone has to pay to make room for all those subdivisions, strip malls and theme parks, and the black bear seems to be a prime candidate.
If the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is going to permit the reduction of the black beer population it has a responsibility to act on more current and reliable data than a nearly decade old study. The bear, whose preservation was based on state regulations to ensure its survival, should not be victimized simply because those successful regulations now have proven to be inconvenient.