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Only two people can stop the bear hunt — and one of them is Gov. Rick Scott

Florida’s bear population is about 3,000.
Published Oct. 3, 2015

Now that a judge has declined to intervene, the only people who can stop Florida's first bear hunt since 1994 are Gov. Rick Scott and the head of the state wildlife commission, the attorney for the group leading the opposition to the hunt said Friday.

And neither of them is likely to do so.

On Thursday the group, Speak Up Wekiva, tried to persuade a judge to issue a temporary injunction blocking the hunt, but failed. While the group will now push for a trial, attorney Ralf Brookes said it's unlikely any trial could be held prior to the start of the one-week hunting season on Oct. 24. Instead, any trial would be aimed at making sure there's no 2016 hunt.

That means, he said, the only people who can stop this year's hunt are Scott and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director Nick Wiley. Either could issue an executive order stopping it before it starts. But Wiley said he won't be calling a halt to the hunt.

"I would not contemplate using an executive order in this manner to stop the hunt before it begins when this would be contrary to the action of our commission to authorize this hunt," Wiley wrote in an email to the Times.

Last month, a spokesman for the governor said Scott would not stop the hunt either.

"It is for FWC to decide what is best for Florida's growing bear population," Scott spokesman John Tupps told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Gov. Scott trusts them to make the right decision to keep families safe."

Tupps said Friday that the governor hasn't changed his position.

The commission's decision to approve a bear hunt has drawn controversy from the start. Commissioners asked the public for comment, and drew 40,000 letters, emails and calls, of which 75 percent opposed the hunt. But they voted to go ahead with it anyway, and Gov. Rick Scott said he would not interfere.

So far the commission has sold 2,360 licenses to hunt bears, a major payday for the agency since each resident license costs $100 and the ones for out-of-state hunters, such as rocker Ted Nugent, cost $300.

But most of those hunters will never see a bear, according to the testimony of Diane Eggeman, who heads up the wildlife commission's hunting division.

"Let's say we have 3,000 hunters participate," she told the judge. Based on her calculations of the hunting success rate, "only 207 bears would be taken.

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

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