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Split Florida Conservation Commission Approves Letting Hunters Kill 10% of Bear Population in 4 Regions

| September 2, 2015

black bear florida hunt

Looking for cover. (USFWSmidwest)

A target was placed on at least 320 black bears Wednesday as the once-threatened species will be hunted across Florida next month for the first time in more than two decades.

A split Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved quota numbers that represent about 10 percent of the bear population in four regions of the state — there are seven regions — where the hunt will be allowed. Commission staff called the regional and overall quota numbers “conservative.”

Commissioners, meeting in Fort Lauderdale, also gave support Wednesday to a position paper on the Florida panther population. Some panther advocates argued the commission’s move is a step toward allowing the endangered animals to eventually be hunted like bears.

The bear hunt, approved by the commission in June and set to start Oct. 24, will last from two to seven days. While the hunt is supposed to end in each region once the preset quotas are reached, hunters are guaranteed a minimum of two days of pursuing bears.

Commissioner Robert Spottswood said he’d like to give the agency’s executive director authority to close the hunt after the first day if the quotas are reached, but he failed to get support from the full commission.

“Why not manage the program so you can’t exceed the objective?” Spottswood said.

Commissioner Ron Bergeron, a hunter who cast the lone vote against the hunt in June because of what he said was a need to gather more data on the number of bears, also voted against approving the quotas.

Diane Eggeman, director of the commission’s Division of Hunting and Game Management, said that while the number of bears killed could exceed the quota numbers in each of the four regions, there will not be an “over-harvesting,” based on examples from others states that allow bear hunts.

Opponents said the commission was mismanaging the hunt, with an unlimited hunt for the first two days, and warned of a pending bear “blood bath.”

Lee Cook, a wetlands biologist, questioned assurances that there won’t be over-harvesting, as the state has sold 1,948 bear hunting permits — as of Tuesday — at a cost of $100 for Floridians and $300 for non-Floridians.

“You have put us on track to go over the quota in the first two days,” Cook said. “That, combined with the nuisance bear kills and the car kills, could put us right back on the endangered species list, which we all worked so hard to get them off.”

Black bears were placed on the state’s threatened list in 1974, when there were between 300 and 500 across Florida. At the time, hunting black bears was limited to three counties. In 1994, the hunting season was closed statewide.

This year’s hunt is intended to help the state achieve a 20 percent reduction in the bear population in each region. The 20 percent figure includes the number of bears that die naturally, are hit and killed by cars and are captured and killed by wildlife officers due to conflicts.

Eggeman said permitted hunters, who will be limited to one bear each, must report kills within 12 hours, and there will be nightly updates, via text and social media, on the counts for each region.

According to the latest figures, there are an estimated 1,300 bears in the Central region, which includes the St. Johns River watershed to the Ocala National Forest, and 550 bears in the North region, which goes from Jacksonville west to Hamilton and Suwannee counties. In each region, the harvest target is 100 bears.

The bear quota is 40 in an eastern Panhandle region, which includes the northwestern Big Bend area to west of Apalachicola Bay. In a South region, which includes Broward, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties, the quota number is 80. The South region excludes the Big Cypress National Preserve.

The issue has gained attention recently because of conflicts between bears and humans in some areas of the state. Critics of the hunt contend that people are moving into bear habitats and that the state should focus on efforts such as bear-proofing trash containers and prohibiting people from feeding bears.

Thomas Eason, director of the commission’s Division of Habitat and Species, said the agency is identifying obstacles in getting more “bear resistant” trash cans in areas where bears live, including a need to push for local ordinances to ensure compliance.

“It’s not rocket science. We know it works,” Eason said.

The panther issue also drew heavy discussion Wednesday. Commissioners backed the new position paper, which seeks incentives for private landowners to maintain panther habitat and assistance from the Department of Transportation to install panther crossings to reduce collisions with vehicles. Also, it seeks to develop ways to respond to encounters between panthers and people or panthers and livestock.

Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Roberts called the policy “our best efforts” to sustain the panther populations.

Agency officials say they aren’t seeking to allow the federally endangered species to be hunted but are seeking better management to reduce conflicts with humans.

Such assurances weren’t accepted by many of speakers addressing the commission Wednesday.

“It’s not what’s in the paper that’s wrong, it’s what’s missing from the paper that is wrong,” said Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “Not a word about habitat loss. You folks know, and your scientists know, and the Fish and Wildlife Service folks know, that the big problem for the panther is loss of habitat. It’s been continuous, ongoing and it’s happening now.”

The policy statement also recommends the commission seek more federal assistance as the panther population in Southwest Florida has reached its “carrying capacity” and is expanding to other parts of the state.

Nearly a half-century of conservation efforts have allowed the panther population, mostly across South Florida, to grow from about 30 to around 180, according to the commission paper.

The current recovery plan calls for the panther population to reach about 240 adult cats in three areas across South Florida. Yet the panther population is being impacted by humans moving into the animal’s natural habitat.

Commissioner Aliesa “Liesa” Priddy, a Collier County rancher who shared a video of a panther strolling across a field apparently unconcerned about the human occupants of a nearby vehicle, questioned if the 240 number is realistic due to development growth. She also said many people may not understand the impact of panthers on residents of rural areas.

“The people that are in the urban, suburban areas have to have some empathy for those people that are not in the urban and suburban areas,” Priddy said.

–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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7 Responses for “Split Florida Conservation Commission Approves Letting Hunters Kill 10% of Bear Population in 4 Regions”

  1. Dave says:

    I’m a hunter but this is nuts regarding the Florida panther. Man builds and takes over the Florida panther area and the answer is to kill them of trap them and put them in a small preserve. . Might as well say the same thing about people, oh we did that its was the Native America Indian,.

  2. confidential says:

    @ Dave you are correct. We take their territories and food and then we kill them because they come too close for comfort around our discards for food? Regarding our Native Americans still taking whatever left that we exchanged inside their reservations:

  3. Geezer says:

    [Selected as the Comment of the Day in the Weekend Briefing.–FL]

    The Sunshine State is overdeveloped and it’s going to get worse.
    Because of this, Florida is terminally ill.

    Florida depends on construction for much of it’s employment.
    It can be said that Florida feeds on itself for sustenance.
    This “feeding” involves clearing beautiful healthy land along with
    its trees, its birds, deer, bears, turtles and myriad other species.
    Construction is Florida’s “cancer”

    This cancer will kill continue to kill all of the creatures that
    were here first – creatures that don’t kill for fun or pollute, or put
    a strain on their environment.

    After all this damage, exactly WHAT is so attractive about Florida?
    Golf courses?
    Houses that all look the same?

    Forget all that: KILL THE BLACK BEARS!
    My favorite rationalization: “it’s for their own good.”
    “We’ll only run them over anyway. We need new construction!
    We need jobs”

    I always thought that Palm Coast had a funny motto:
    “In harmony with nature.” Tell that to the flattened turtle or armadillo
    on the sun-washed road as the vultures peck their eyes out.

    I know: It’s Obama’s fault.

    • DW Ferg says:

      Back to the days of the ” Yearling” and Cross Creek ? No air conditioning, cell phones or Internet. Progress is being controlled by any number of regulatory bodies. I think the cat is out of the bag with respect to Florida’s future. Be thankful you live in an area where the old Florida still exists in many respects. If you want bears roaming in your backyard, there are several places you could set up a residence. But, you might not have water/ sewer service or electricity or a road or…

  4. Dave says:

    Florida will destroy itself with over population driving construction and the loss of all animal habitat. Before long the entire state will be concrete and over populated , animals will be seen in zoo’s. I’m all for control of the bears but I’m more concerned about the over population of people in this state which is driving people to ask for bears to be killed. . I was born here and raised here and in 64 years this state has changed to now mimic LA or New Jersey and New York. Give it time as it will be a dead overpopulated dead zone.

  5. Kevin says:

    Our state legislature ignored the will of the people who voted to conserve more land and with the misdirected support of organizations like The Nature Comservancy, monies are being spent on some unnecessary expensive land management pet projects because they help special interests instead of preserving more acreage for wildlife habitat, watershed protection and open space for passive recreation. If these wildlife lands were protected we wouldn’t need to slaughter these beautiful animals who do a better job raising their young than many humans.

  6. gary morris says:

    Developers are Stage 4 cancers that feed on money and undeveloped forest. They will die when they kill everything else.

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