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Bear hunt foes use state's hunting license list to email hunters

Opponents of Florida’s bear hunt, which starts Saturday, have a list of the people who have bear hunting licenses.
Opponents of Florida’s bear hunt, which starts Saturday, have a list of the people who have bear hunting licenses.
Published Oct. 21, 2015

Opponents of Florida's upcoming bear hunt — the first in 21 years — failed to stop the hunt at the wildlife commission, or in court. So some have now tried a more personal approach.

Opponents have obtained a list of the 2,920 people who have bought bear hunting licenses so far and are using it to email the individual hunters before the start of the weeklong season on Saturday.

"Some of them have gotten emails from a group that's urging them not to hunt," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director Nick Wiley said Tuesday. "Some of them are criticizing them for even getting a permit."

"If you know someone on the list, email them!" former St. Petersburg City Council candidate Lorraine Margeson urged friends on Facebook this week after obtaining the list from the Facebook page of a group called Bears of Wekiva.

Wiley said he's gotten "a handful" of complaints from would-be bear hunters about their information being made available. One person sent all the hunters an email saying the hunt is unnecessary because the bears could be shot with darts containing birth control chemicals, Wiley said.

Some of the hunters, he said, didn't realize that hunting permits are a public record in Florida.

Under Florida's popular Government in the Sunshine Law, records generated by a government agency such as the wildlife commission are considered public unless the Legislature imposes some exception to the rules.

That means if someone asks the commission for the list of hunters, "We have to provide it," Wiley said. If some hunters feel harassed, though, "It may lead to questions about, 'Is this something that should be an open record?' " Wiley said.

The bear hunt has proven to be extremely controversial, with state wildlife commissioners voting to approve it despite overwhelming public opposition in letters, calls and emails. Wildlife commissioners touted the hunt as a population control method, but acknowledged that no one knows for sure how many bears there are. The latest estimate is about 3,300 bears.

Commissioners began considering a hunt in the wake of four bear attacks on women, three of them in Central Florida's suburbs and one in a rural Panhandle area. However, wildlife officials said the hunt would do nothing to blunt the threat of future attacks.

A group called Speak Up Wekiva challenged the bear hunt in circuit court. After a lengthy hearing, a judge ruled that while the wildlife commission could have done a better job establishing a scientific basis for its decision, what the agency had done was sufficient to be considered legal. The group is now appealing that decision, but no ruling is likely prior to the start of the one-week hunt on Saturday.

The rules of the hunt say no one can use dogs, which has led to some avid bear-hunters boycotting the hunt. The rules also say that the hunt will stop early if the hunters kill 320 bears, the maximum allowed.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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