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Florida Ready To Take Another Look At Bears

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Florida game officials will get an update next week on the state's growing black bear population, a discussion animal-rights supporters contend is a first step toward holding a hunt later this year.

Hunting backers have argued that a hunt is one way to manage bear populations and to reduce potentially dangerous bear-human interactions.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff update that will be presented April 19 in Havana, northwest of Tallahassee, doesn't include "anything specific" about holding a bear hunt this year, said Thomas Eason, director of the commission's habitat and species conservation division.

“We are not planning on giving anything specific about bear hunting in 2017. However, with that said, at all of the previous commission meetings recently, the public has come and talked about bear hunting,” said Eason. “We anticipate that likely will happen again, and our commissioner can always engage on that topic if they wish to do so.”

Bear hunting has been a controversial issue since the commission in 2015 allowed the first bear hunt in more than 20 years. The commission decided against holding a hunt in 2016.

Animal-rights supporters like Kate MacFall with the Humane Society of the United States consider such hunts as trophy excursions. Most Floridians do not support hunting the animals, she said.

“Since they did not have one last year, they figured it was done for a while, in error. Now people are realizing that it is back up and it will be back up, the possibility of a hunt,” said MacFall. We are hearing from members all over the state, and all over the country actually, in opposition to any kind of bear trophy hunt.”

After 304 bears were killed in two days during the 2015 hunt, the commission narrowly rejected a hunt last year. The decision was to give the agency more time to build a case for future hunts and to provide more time for non-lethal efforts to reduce human-bear conflicts to take hold.

The agency used money from the state and through fees paid for bear hunting permits in 2015 to spread $825,000 across 12 counties to increase the use of bear-proof trash containers.

Also, after the 2015 hunt, the agency completed a population estimate that raised the number of bears in the state from just over 3,000 to 4,350.

The number of bear-related calls has fallen from 6,688 in 2014 to 5,132 last year, according to FWC.