Florida wildlife officials are not recommending the state hold another bear hunt as part of a proposed management plan for the animals they released Tuesday.
Instead, the 209-page draft plan from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission talks about managing the bears’ habitat and access to trash bins in order to help prevent conflicts with humans. While the plan does mention hunting as a population management tool in other states, there’s no recommendation to hold a successor to the hunt that happened in 2015.
“That’s a policy decision,” wildlife commission executive director Eric Sutton said Tuesday. That means his bosses, the commissioners, “are the ones who would have to decide this.”
The commission is seeking public comment on the new bear plan, with commissioners scheduled to discuss it and those comments at their meeting Dec, 11-12.
The fact that there’s no recommendation for a new hunt is “good news for the bears,” said Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club, an organization that had tried to halt the hunt in 2015.
“We’re hopeful” that Florida is done with bear hunting, said Kate McFall of the Humane Society’s Florida chapter. “We will be continuing to watch this closely.”
On the wildlife commission’s website, a list of points about the new management plan says it “acknowledges that, as both the human and bear populations continue to increase in Florida, at some point the number of bears will need to be addressed in some way.” The options listed include not just a possible hunt at some point in the future, but also hiring contract trappers, relocating bears or manipulating their fertility or their habitat.
Four years ago, after a series of bear attacks on humans, the commission voted to hold the state’s first bear hunt in 21 years. It was supposed to last a week and the number of bears to be killed was not supposed to exceed 320. But Florida’s hunters killed so many bears over the opening weekend – 304 – that state wildlife officials shut down the hunt after only two days.
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The vote to approve the 2015 hunt had already been controversial. Of the 40,000 calls, letters and emails sent to commissioners before their vote, 75 percent urged them to vote against reviving the bear hunt.
Critics complained that commissioners were basing their decision on outdated scientific data, and noted that a hunt would not have any effect on halting further attacks.
The controversy grew hotter after the hunt, when the wildlife commission’s biologists reported that among the bears that were killed were 36 lactating females, suggesting some cubs had been orphaned. The biologists said that the hunt had been timed so that any orphaned cubs would be old enough to survive on their own.
In 2016, when commissioners debated holding another hunt, the proposal failed. And when commissioners brought the idea up again in 2017, they ultimately decided not to even discuss holding another bear hunt until this year. In the meantime, they asked for an updated management plan.
RELATED STORY: No new bear hunts before 2019, wildlife commission says.
The goal of the plan, according to the website, is to “increase the chances that healthy, self-sustaining, and genetically diverse bear populations will thrive in Florida and human-bear conflicts will be minimized.”
The plan does note that the sale of bear hunting permits in 2015 raised $375,000, which the agency then used to help pay for bear-resistant trash cans in areas where bears had been seen as threatening to humans.
WANT TO COMMENT? Go to this link for the plan and for a survey to comment on it: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/bear/