More than 3,500 people armed with guns and bows are expected to take to the woods across four swaths of the state starting Saturday morning to begin a quest to kill formerly threatened Florida black bears.
Taking aim at bears is something hunters haven’t been permitted to do anywhere in Florida since 1994.
Some opponents turned out Friday at protests across the state and intend to spend the next few days keeping watch on the 33 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission game-check stations where hunters are required to bring fresh kills within 12 hours.
“We’re concerned that too many of the bears will be taken,” said Sally Sanders, organizer of a “Stop the Bear Hunt” protest Friday that drew about 70 people outside the commission’s Tallahassee headquarters. “We’re concerned that the population could drop down below a level that it can recover.”
But, state officials remain adamant that the hunt, which limits each permit holder to killing a single bear weighing at least 100 pounds, won’t exceed the overall 320 bears targeted for what the commission calls a “harvest.”
“We know from the experiences in other states that hunter success rates, without the use of dogs and without the use of bait, hunt success is expected to be very low,” said Diane Eggeman, commission director of hunting and game management. “From other states that use those methods, we might expect, on average based on those other states, that only 7 percent of our hunters will harvest a bear any time during our season.”
Hunting could last as long as seven days and is to be halted in each area the day after that region’s kill quota is reached, she said.
The commission had placed a two-day minimum on the weeklong season, but an agency lawyer noted Oct. 1 during a court hearing that an emergency order may be issued to stop hunting in areas after one day. The hearing ended with a Leon County circuit judge refusing to issue an injunction against the hunt.
“Every day, if hunters plan to hunt the next day, they need to check with us after 9 p.m. to make sure the hunt will be open in the bear management unit,” Eggeman said, referring to the region of the state where they plan to hunt.
The hunt comes amid a growing number of incidents across the state involving bears and humans, as development continues to move into the black bear’s natural habitat.
However, the agency says the hunt is a result, in part, of the success Florida has had in protecting the species, which was placed on the state’s threatened list in 1974, when the black bear population fell to between 300 and 500.
Bears were removed from the list in 2012 when a new management plan was approved.
Eggeman said the state has been pursuing other methods of reducing human-bear conflicts for years, such as getting more communities to require bear-proof trash containers. But the hunt is “the best tool” to stabilize the bear population, which is estimated around 3,000 in the state, she said.
“It’s an important management tool for us, because bears are abundant and doing well in many parts of Florida,” Eggeman said. “Regulating and keeping their numbers at a good balance with people and for sustainable bear populations is a part of our job.”
Opponents argue the state should have waited at least another year when updated bear population counts would be available for all four regions of the state where the hunt will occur.
Those critics contend a rush to hold the hunt is simply to afford hunters the chance for a new trophy.
“This hunt is completely unnecessary, and it’s not supported by science or by public sentiment,” said Kate MacFall, Florida state director for The Humane Society. “The state would be better off helping citizens manage trash and outdoor food sources. Unfortunately for bears, most of Florida’s wildlife commissioners failed to listen to the overwhelming majority of Floridians who publicly opposed the hunt.”
Susan Cerulean, a Tallahassee-based nature writer, said the hunt isn’t an effective way to manage the bear population and that people need to be required to do a better job securing trash.
“Bears are programmed to seek food, and if we leave things out for them they’re going to go after it,” Cerulean said. “That is what happened in Alaska, you get fined if you leave coolers unsecured. And here, it’s the bears that take the hit.”
The state is using 2002 bear estimates for two of the four regions where hunting will be allowed. The commission divides the state into seven bear-management units or regions.
Using the 2002 bear population estimates, the quota is 40 bears 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.
Using 2014 estimates, the target is 100 bears each in the Central region, which includes the St. Johns River watershed to the Ocala National Forest, and in the North region, which goes from Jacksonville west to Hamilton and Suwannee counties. There are an estimated 1,300 bears in the Central region and 550 bears in the North region.
The state sold permits for $100 to Florida residents and $300 to people from out of state, with no limit on the number of permits that could be sold. Money from the permits is expected to help fund efforts to reduce bear-human conflicts.
Among the permit holders are Republican state House members Frank Artiles of Miami, Jay Trumbull of Panama City and Tom Goodson of Titusville, Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Aliese Priddy and rock star Ted Nugent.
The “shooting hours,” with rifles, shotguns, pistols, muzzleloaders, bows and crossbows, are from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. Dogs, which must remain on a leash, can only be used to help find a bear that has been shot.
Eggeman said officials will conduct a review after the hunt to determine if any changes are needed for future hunts.
Critics said they will keep up the protests and support for a lawsuit by the Seminole County group Speak Up Wekiva. The lawsuit contends the rules for the hunt go against a 1998 voter-approved constitutional amendment that created the commission as an independent body “to conduct management, preservation and conservation decision-making based upon sound science.”
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
I’d rather see problem bears culled by the state. I mean what do you do with a dead bear anyway? The meat is not all that good, it’s not venison quality and it carries trichinosis. Stick the head over the mantle? I suppose it’s part of the sunshine tax “no limit on the number of permits that could be sold” means to me, it’s make $ as quick as possible for the state. The 1800 bears in the north and central areas are not that many bears.
Shame on the state of Florida for allowing the murder of these innocent fellow mammals who do a better job rearing their young than many humans. There is only one reason for this slaughter and that is to placate the firearm industry/NRA. This has nothing to do with “management” of the population. Other than some human/bear interactions caused mostly by humans not properly securing their trash or leaving pet food outside, etc.. Those who participate in this hunt are not sportsmen, they are blood sport participants who lack something in their lives that require them to kill these beautiful creatures to make up for their empty souls.
First we take their habitat and other that learning how to live with our wildlife around us, by educating ourselves and having the state to provide tight bear proof garbage containers, we just go and shoot them to reduce their numbers so they do not bother our idiocy and obliviousness after taking up residence inside these bears sanctuaries and territories. Just murderous!
My appreciation to all the volunteers risking their safety by demonstrating against this hunt in those locations today.
Well you can tell what state we are in …..only 320 bears are supposed to be killed,……but they sold 3500 permits , you don`t think each person wants their trophy???? They are not even hunting the nuisance bear`s,…… they are going into forest all over state killing innocent ones……not that the nuisance ones aren`t innocent themselves …greed has over populated this state and took away the bears natural habitat, Palm Coast is perfect example …..all the land that ITT zoned for wildlife is now gated communities, gas stations etc……. I go up to Tn mountains , are plenty bear up there , they simply have metal cages people put their trash in , once bears realize they can`t get a meal……. they go away, they do not slaughter hundreds because a few seek food , relocation is the sane approach when your not in it for blood and greed ..but then you can tell by the math in this equation….. we are in Floriduh!!!
What gets to me is the pleasure that guys (some women too) derive from
killing a creature that never did anything to them. How does one lust to
kill, for the sake of killing?
I’ve been a gun owner for years, and all I can shoot are bulls-eye targets.
I have ZERO kinship with those who don’t respect life.
We’re not brothers-in-arms. I especially abhor the tasteless snapshots where
the killer poses with his victim with a shitty grin. That’s a DESECRATION.
Again, it’s the pleasure factor that sickens me. You can’t eat the bear.
All you can do is have its hide stuffed or make a rug out of it.
If you shoot an animal – you should eat it.
The only exception is if you happen upon a deer, bear or hog that’s been
hit by a car – you should shoot it in the ear.
And of course if you’re looking to fill your freezer by hunting deer – that’s great.
More power to you.
And to pay $100.00 for the rights to murder these beautiful animals –
that’s a case of a person having too much money. Maybe a donation to
a food bank would be nicer.
When you kill for fun – you suck as a human being. Killing shouldn’t be fun.
I suspect that these “hunters” have a deficiency that they’re compensating for.
My sympathies go to their spouses…
This is the most disgusting thing this state has done in a long time. Rumors are flying that they have have already gone well over the supposed limit and this is day one. Sickening
Just a thought says
I’m not a hunter, nor do I have any disire to hunt. However I have no problem with this or any other hunt. Some of these comments make me laugh. “The State should provide bear proof garbage cans.” Really? You can go buy them your self. Why should the state use my tax dollars to give you a garbage can. How about greed took their habit. I bet, like me, none of the commenters are native to Florida. All the greed is because you and I needed a place to live when we moved here.
Our state horrific state legislators would prefer to give millions of our hard earned tax dollars to incredibly profitable sports teams/facilities than to spend 1 penny in relocating these essentially harmless creatures to a nature preserve or national park! Disgusting is certainly correct. . . but then again the NRA would be soooo proud!
We need to get out the vote for a return to sanity!
I think it is an excellent program. Thank you Florida legislature.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Good luck to everyone out there! Everyone have a safe hunt.
Groot and Geezer you obviously have never had properly prepared bear meat. If done right, it is venison quality. And to the rest of you… stop your whining. Unless you are a vegetarian, take a good look at that burger you are stuffing down your pie hole. And if you are a vegetarian, that is just a fancy name for a poor hunter.
How come no one complains when hunters shoot deer or other species of animals, including ducks?
The state allowed around 300 bears to be killed to help keep down the population of them because they will have a few less bears to reproduce for a few years. Bears are no longer afraid of people and as their habitat gets taken away from them more and more by us humans who build homes, hotels, amusement parks, etc. the situation will get even worse. In fact somewhere near Orlando I believe, a man was attacked by a bear today.
I/M/O there are two choices here. Allow hunters to shoot the bears or the government traps the bears and relocates them to non populated areas of Florida.
To trap, transport and release will cost the taxpayers a lot of money. So to those who are against the hunt I ask “Are you willing to have your taxes increased to save your “Harmless” bears.
Fore those who don’t believe bears are dangerous let us look at Alaska during the Salmon Fishing Season. Alaska State Troopers check that the licensed fishermen and woman fishing are armed with a handgun that can stop a bear. By the way the handguns owned by most Floridians will not kill a bear. It takes a very powerful magnum round to stop a bear. .357 or .44 caliber round. One’s .38 caliber or 9mm round the bear will simply laugh at.
Tourist attraction in the Sunshine State; “Welcome to our bear killing grounds” enjoy your stay!
I am seriously beginning to dislike Florida!
In a News Journal story Saturday linked on Facebook, I saw this gem: ” A guy named Slater says that he shot a bear with a bow and arrow after it walked down a road and sat down in front of him. It’s in the story. That’s not sporting. That’s just murder. Read it for yourself.”
Leaving baby bears orphans is not going to help the bear “problem”…it is going to exacerbate it. Stop taking their land. Stop taking their migration paths. Stop taking their lives. There is no way to know how many tourist dollars will be lost with the world wide coverage this wanton massacre has received. Florida has a reputation for being a backwards, materialistic wasteland already. One of the only redeeming qualities left is what Mother Nature created and yet we are destroying it with glee… these people that kill for pride and glory are sick individuals supported by a sick government in a sick state.
Sounds like this was a GREAT success. The limit was reached in two days the State made a lot of $ for other wildlife and land conservation.
I don’t get all the trap and relocate thing. It can be done to a limited point but that would only overpopulate one place. It would become a bad thing for the bears as they would NOT have enough food land to survive on.
@ IMO. . . I would much rather have my tax dollars go to preserving ALL wild life than to massively profitable private enterprises like sport teams! You know, like those that pay their players millions of dollars a year but still require the state of Florida to give them tax breaks and financial support from our tax dollars!
Allowing the slaughter of the bears is nothing short of CRIMINAL!