1. News

Florida's weeklong bear hunt ends after just two days

District Wildlife Biologist Tom Shupe fills out data about harvested bears at the first Florida Black Bear hunt in 21 years at the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area near Lake Mary. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times]
District Wildlife Biologist Tom Shupe fills out data about harvested bears at the first Florida Black Bear hunt in 21 years at the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area near Lake Mary. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Dec. 9, 2015

Florida's first bear hunt in 21 years has fallen victim to its own success. Florida's hunters killed so many bears over the weekend that state wildlife officials shut down the hunt on Sunday night, ending what was envisioned as a weeklong season after only two days.

"I have signed the order to close the hunt," state wildlife commission executive director Nick Wiley said about 8:45 p.m. Sunday.

The number of bears killed statewide had reached 295, he said, and "we don't want to go another full day" and risk exceeding the 320-bear limit that the wildlife commission set for the hunt. "We'd rather err on the conservative side," he said.

Although the hunt drew strong opposition from the public, both in letters and emails to the commission and on social media, Wiley said he considered it to be a success. But he also said the commission staff had "learned a lot" and would likely change some things if there's a second bear hunt next year.

Wiley said he'd already called Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski, who agreed with his decision to shut the hunt down. Wiley said the commissioners, who are appointees of Gov. Rick Scott, have all been supportive of how the hunt was handled.

The commission had set quotas for each of four areas where hunting was allowed, and Wiley shut down two of them at the end of the first day of the hunt because they exceeded their limit of dead bears. The hunters in one of those regions, the eastern Panhandle, had brought in twice as many dead bears as the limit permitted. Updated figures presented in a Sunday afternoon conference call showed the hunters killed even more bears than the official record reflected on Saturday.

In the eastern Panhandle, the new numbers show hunters killed 112 bears, or nearly three times the limit of 40 that the commission had set. The Central Florida region's limit had been 100, and hunters topped that too, bringing in 139 dead bears by midday Sunday. Both of those sections were closed to hunting as of 9 p.m. Saturday, but commission rules say hunters had up to 12 hours to bring in any bears killed before the area was closed. That's why the numbers were much higher as of Sunday.

Wiley predicted the final statewide total for all the bears killed in the two-day hunt will likely climb higher than 295 today for that same reason.

The commission's top bear expert, Thomas Eason, said the high number of bears killed in just two days showed that hundreds of eager hunters spent weeks scouting locations to guarantee a shot at a bear. He also credited the high number of bears killed to the fact that the last Florida bear hunt was in 1994.

"The bears haven't been hunted in 21 years, so they're relatively naive," Eason said.

Opponents of the hunt, including the Sierra Club and Speak Up Wekiva, called for the statewide hunt to be shut down Saturday, warning that killing too many bears would be a disaster for a population that until 2012 was on the state's imperiled species list. But Wiley only closed the areas that had exceeded their quota.

The Sierra Club's Frank Jackalone, in a Saturday email to Wiley, contended that the over-the-limit bear killing showed that the state's "predictions that hunters would find it difficult to track and kill Florida black bears were dead wrong, leaving science trumped by sloppy guesswork."

Jackalone, in a Sunday interview before the shutdown, criticized the wildlife commission for not limiting the number of hunting permits that were sold, which he said guaranteed there would be too many hunters killing bears. He also contended that the wildlife agency's actions had "set back the recovery of the bears for years, if not decades."

Eason contended that the high number of bears killed was "not a cause for alarm." Instead, he said, the hunters' success shows that there are more bears in the woods than biologists believed. The last statewide bear population count occurred in 2002. A new statewide bear population count will be completed in midsummer of 2016, he said.

Estimates before the hunt placed the bear population at 3,300. The number of people who obtained bear-hunting licences was 3,779.

Some bear hunt opponents had urged the wildlife commission not to allow a hunt until biologists could say how many bears there are in Florida. But commissioners voted to proceed anyway, despite overwhelming public opposition. Of the 40,000 calls, letters and emails sent to commissioners before their vote this summer, 75 percent of them urged the commissioners to vote no on bringing back the bear hunt.

No hunters had been injured or killed during the hunt, according to Maj. Craig Duval of the wildlife agency's law enforcement arm. Two hunters were caught with undersized bears, one of which was a cub. That hunter was charged with a criminal hunting violation, he said. Duval also said his agency has opened several more investigations of possible hunting violations but said he could not give details until the investigations are completed.

Eason could not estimate how many of the bears killed were lactating females, indicating they were mothers with cubs. The first bear brought to the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area check-in station for hunters Saturday morning was lactating. It was killed by a 23-year-old woman who shot it from 200 yards away. Hunting opponents have objected to allowing those bears to be shot, warning that they will leave orphaned cubs that are likely to die, thus making one bear death into two or three.

But Eason said his agency's research has shown that the cubs, which are born in February, are able to fend for themselves by the time they're 9 months old. Some won't make it, he conceded, but he predicted it would be in line with the number of orphaned cubs that were failing to thrive without any bear hunt.

Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.


  1. FILE - In this Dec. 14, 2009 file photo, Frank Knight, 101, of Yarmouth, Maine, stands in front of an elm tree known as "Herbie" in Yarmouth. Knight took care of the tree for about 50 years while working as the Yarmouth tree warden. The tree, estimated to be 217 years old, was cut down Jan. 19, 2010 after suffering numerous bouts of Dutch elm disease. "Herbie" may be gone, but he'll live on in cloned trees that are now being made available to the public. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) [STEVEN SENNE  |  AP]
    What was once a 213-year-old tree will now be available for purchase — in the form of thousands of cloned versions of the tree once named ‘Herbie.’
  2. Tampa Premium Outlets, 2300 Grand Cypress Drive. The area’s newest outlet is touting the shop tax free weekend and extra savings on top of already reduced prices.
    Deputies are searching for a suspect. There is no public safety threat.
  3. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. SpaceX launched 60 mini satellites Monday, the second batch of an orbiting network meant to provide global internet coverage. (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP) [CRAIG BAILEY/FLORIDA TODAY  |  AP]
    No one was aboard for the wild ride in the skies above Cape Canaveral, just two mannequins.
  4. social card for breaking news in crime, for web only
    The driver lost control and crashed into an overpass wall.
  5. social card for breaking news in crime, for web only
    The woman called a second man for help, who shot the man, according to authorities.
  6. The Stewart Detention Center is seen through the front gate, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Lumpkin, Ga. The rural town is about 140 miles southwest of Atlanta and next to the Georgia-Alabama state line. The town’s 1,172 residents are outnumbered by the roughly 1,650 male detainees that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said were being held in the detention center in late November. (AP Photo/David Goldman) [DAVID GOLDMAN  |  AP]
    The Associated Press sent journalists throughout the country to immigration court.
  7. Mike Bishop joins Pasco EDC staff. [Pasco EDC]
    News and notes on Pasco businesses
  8. Hernando County community news [Tara McCarty]
    News and notes on Hernando businesses
  9. Ed Turanchik is a lawyer and former Hillsborough County commissioner. [Times (2016)]
    Politico Ed Turanchik is warned for lobbying about the MacDill ferry after his status as a consultant ended.
  10. Jack Pearcy, left, and James Dailey, right, as they appeared when they each entered Florida's prison system in 1987. Both men were convicted of taking part in the murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio in Pinellas County. Pearcy got a life sentence. Dailey got the death penalty. Dailey's lawyers have argued that Pearcy is solely responsible for the crime. [Florida Department of Corrections]
    The case of James Dailey, facing a death sentence for the 1985 Pinellas County murder of a 14-year-old girl, is full of contradiction, ambiguity and doubt. Court records tell the terrible story.