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Environmentalists Consider Legal Challenge As Reaction Mixed On Florida Bear Hunt

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Environmentalists are considering a legal challenge to Florida's first bear hunt in two decades.

The statewide hunt in October is aimed at managing the growing population of the animal that was removed from the state's threatened list in 2012. It was approved Wednesday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after hours of public testimony, most of it against the hunt.

But not everyone opposes the hunt in Central Florida, home to the state's largest bear population.

Construction workers hammer inside the shell of a new apartment building.

Throughout Central Florida's Heathrow area new subdivisions are springing up. Tonya Jackson lives in one of them.

"There are a lot of bears."

Jackson moved with her husband and two children into their new home less than a year ago. The area is not far from three recent maulings.

"They come to the doors. I had one on my front porch. I had another one crossing me when I was in the garage working. In the back. It's just a lot."

She says because the neighborhood is new many residents don't know they can avoid attracting bears by doing things like bringing trash inside. She's afraid especially for her children and says something must be done.

"I'm in full support of them being hunted and you know the reduction of the bears in this area. Absolutely."

Chuck O'Neal of the League of Women Voters of Florida says it's an emotional reaction.

"If the folks in Heathrow are upset about bears in their neighborhood going into the woods and hunting bears in the woods is not going to solve that problem."

The League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups are considering legal action against the hunt.

The seven-day hunt will take place in four areas where the state's largest bear populations are. The goal is to reduce these populations by 20 percent, and the hunt will be stopped early if the goal is met. Hunters will be limited to one kill.

Florida becomes the 33rd state to authorize bear hunting.

Chuck Echenique is part of a group that advised the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on the rules. He says it's a conservative hunt.

"Florida has fragmented habitat, and the habitat that is currently available to those bears is not sufficient to support the number of those bears that are living on them currently."

But Chuck O'Neal worries the 20 percent goal is too much. He says in Central Florida the bear population has grown by 30 percent in 13 years.

"So coming out with a 20 percent goal for this hunt is way out of line with the population growth."

He and his wife see lots of bears near their home in Central Florida's Wekiva area, but he says they don't cause any trouble. He saw one recently.

"I stepped out of my door, and I saw a head peering right over there, over my pickup truck. It was a black bear, and he slowly lowered his head down. And I continued to watch, and he brought his head back up and looked at me, knowing that I saw him. And the look in his eyes was like, Oh boy, here we go."

The bear circled O'Neal's truck, climbed a bench and sauntered into the woods.

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.
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