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Conservation group sues to stop black bear hunt

A Seminole County conservation group has filed suit against Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission claiming the black bear hunt approved in June is unconstitutional.

Speak Up Wekiva, a Florida non-profit, filed the complaint Friday in Circuit Court in Tallahassee claiming the new rules allowing the hunt violate Amendment 5, a 1998 ballot amendment creating the commission so that it would "conduct management, preservation and conservation decision-making based upon sound science," according to the suit.

The complaint says the commission failed to show scientific evidence that hunting will reduce interactions with humans, or that the bear population can sustain the hunt. The complaint cites "a dearth of hard data regarding the actual current population and their rate of successful reproduction coupled with mounting threats from habitat fragmentation and degradation and mortality due to collisions with motor vehicles."

The commission voted 5 to 1 on June 24 to allow a one-week, daytime bear-hunting season in four regions in October for the first time since 1994. The suit notes that about 75 percent of the 40,000 responses received by the commission oppose the move.

The Sierra Club, Environmental Action, the League of Women Voters and the Center for Biological Diversity are calling on FWC to suspend the sale of hunting permits, slated to begin Monday, until the court proceedings end.

"The people of Florida have spoken: they do not want their black bears hunted" Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "The FWC is acting against the interests of Floridians, science, and Florida black bears; it is not too late for it to hit the brakes on this ill-conceived plan."

An FWC spokeswoman did not return a call Friday.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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