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Florida Bear Hunt To Begin Saturday

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday more than 3,100 hunters will take to the woods in pursuit of the Florida black bear.

It is the state’s first bear hunt in more than 20 years.

The goal is to make sure the bear doesn’t outgrow its habitat.

90.7 environmental reporter Amy Green has been following this controversial bear hunt and spoke with Morning Edition host Nicole Creston.

NICOLE: Amy, why is Florida having this bear hunt now?

AMY: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission describes the Florida black bear as a conservation success story.

The state agency estimates the population at more than 3,500. At its low point the population was thought to be fewer than 500.

Florida Fish and Wildlife says the bear population is poised to outgrow its habitat. That means there would be more bears than food and open space.

NICOLE: Bears in neighborhoods has been a big problem especially in central Florida, which is home to the state’s largest bear population. How will the hunt affect that?

AMY: The hunt is unlikely to have a big impact on that. Florida Fish and Wildlife says that’s not the reason for the hunt.

Bears wander into neighborhoods in search of food. They can smell food from more than a mile away and will travel long distances for it.

In neighborhoods bears are lured by food sources like garbage left outside on trash day. Bears often can get more calories from a single household’s trash than from an entire day of foraging.

Bears that are accustomed to getting food from neighborhoods likely will continue the behavior.

NICOLE: Then how is Florida Fish and Wildlife addressing this problem of bears in neighborhoods?

AMY: Florida Fish and Wildlife says the best way to keep bears out of neighborhoods is to eliminate food sources like trash.

The state agency plans to put proceeds from the hunt toward making bear-resistant trash cans more available.

Many central Floridians already have the trash cans. Seminole County considered a measure requiring the trash cans in certain neighborhoods, but the measure failed.

I talked with Janice Springfield of Lake Mary. She estimates she and her husband have seen a dozen bears on their property. One bear charged her.

The couple invested in a bear-resistant trash can. Springfield says the trash cans work but are a little more expensive, and their garbage collector charges an additional fee for the trash cans because the trucks can’t pick them up and dump them.

The trash cans involve a locking mechanism. Springfield and her husband are in their 80s and have had some difficulty with that. She showed me how it works.

“See if you can open the bear can. See what it says. OK, there are instructions here. It says, ‘Step 1: Using one hand insert finger into lock mechanism opening. OK. Pull trigger inside lock mechanism back using inserted finger. Using the other hand grip top piece of lock. Oh, OK. We did it together because I’m holding my microphone.'”

There you can here the lid slamming shut.

Springfield says bears cannot get into the trash cans, and they do keep bears away.

NICOLE: Amy Green, the hunt’s goal is 320 bears. Why that number?

AMY: It’s based on population estimates and mortality rates, including estimates dating to 2002.

Florida Fish and Wildlife is in the middle of a new population count, and environmentalists have criticized the state agency for holding the hunt before the count is complete.

But because the population is believed to have grown in 13 years Florida Fish and Wildlife considers the goal conservative.

The state agency says it will monitor the hunt closely and end it early as the goal is met.

NICOLE: Is it likely the goal will be met?

AMY: Florida Fish and Wildlife says hunt rules will make that difficult, but environmentalists argue the number of bears killed will likely surpass the goal.

They filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the hunt but were unsuccessful.

NICOLE: Who can hunt and where?

AMY: Those with permits can hunt in four areas in the east Panhandle and north, central and south Florida.

The central Florida area surrounds Ocala National Forest and includes a dozen wildlife management areas. The goal here is 100 bears.

The permits cost $100 for Florida residents and $300 dollars for non-residents. Today is the last day they are available.

Baiting bears is prohibited, and hunters won’t be able to use dogs.

Hunters can take only one bear and must bring it to a check station within 12 hours. Florida Fish and Wildlife staff will weigh and measure the bear, pull a tooth and take a hair sample.

NICOLE: I’ve been speaking with 90.7 environmental reporter Amy Green. Thanks for joining us!

AMY: My pleasure.

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s ... Read Full Bio »