Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials confirmed Thursday that the state won’t hold a bear hunt this year. Concerns that discussion of a hunt might be on the agenda drew animal rights advocates to the commission’s meeting at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront on Thursday.
But a spokeswoman for the commission said the agency hasn’t scheduled a discussion about a bear hunt, which would be needed to set up rules and permitting requirements. “Earlier this year, FWC Commissioners requested staff present an update on Florida black bears to a future Commission meeting; however, a date for this update has not yet been finalized,” spokeswoman Lisa Thompson said in an email.
Kate MacFall, who represents the Humane Society, was among bear-hunt opponents who addressed the commission Thursday. “The public does not support it. The hunt in 2015 brought, unfortunately, a lot of criticism to the agency and negative press nationally,” she said. “FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) is doing terrific work, like the springs protection, like working to protect pelicans, your strong response to CWD (chronic wasting disease), progress in non-native wildlife. Obviously, too many to name. So, we urge you to keep the focus on the great work being done here in Florida and avoid unforced errors.”
The commission last approved a bear hunt in 2015, the first in more than two decades. The hunt was promoted as slowing an increase of black bears in the state and reducing dangerous interactions between bears and humans. The 2015 bear “harvest” was set to last a week in four sections of the state, with 320 bears expected to be killed.
Instead, the hunt was called off after two days as the bear death count quickly reached 304. The commission in 2019 approved a 10-year plan for bears that primarily stresses using education and non-lethal techniques to manage the animals. Under the plan, hunting remains an option if interactions between bears and humans escalate amid the increasing number of people in the state. As of 2017, the commission estimated there were 4,050 black bears across Florida. Over the past five years, the state has averaged 5,765 calls a year about bears, according to the commission. In 2022 there were 5,907 calls, up from 5,738 in 2021.