Florida Wildlife Officials are putting the possibility of a black bear hunt on hold—at least for the next few years. The decision came during a Wednesday meeting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting.
As the bear population continues to grow, Florida wildlife officials will need to take steps to manage the population. And those steps will likely include hunting. That’s according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Charles Roberts.
“We have all of the science, everything we need to make that decision. What we don’t know is at what point in time the decision will have to be made. Because there is a breaking point to where a healthy population can begin to deteriorate to some extent just because of the numbers it would seem,” Roberts said.
But Thomas Eason, a bear expert with the FWC says identifying that exact point is tough. He says in other bear populations he’s worked with the number of bears would grow over several years until something happened—like a small acorn crop—which would result in a high number of deaths.
“And that’s why it’s almost impossible for us to answer the question how many bears should be out there. Eventually the system will correct. It’s just how big is that swing and how detrimental is a big swing like that versus managed mortality through a harvest,” Eason said.
However, FWC Director Nick Wiley says in order for the commission to move forward with a bear hunt, it needs the support of Florida citizens. Wiley says 70 percent of Floridians support regulated hunting, but bear hunting is viewed differently. It’s opposed by 43-percent of survey respondents.
“We have more work to do. We feel like we still have a lot of elements of our bear plan, particularly working with the bear advisory groups, working with the stakeholders and the communities. We feel like if we had more time to work and flesh-out and get on the ground with people, we could gain a lot more support for bear hunting down the road,” Wiley said.
The state is approximately five years into a 10-year bear management plan. Commissioners voted to send the commission back to the drawing board to rework the state’s bear management plan. Part of that plan will include considering an approach to bear hunting that may be different in each bear management zone. The vote means putting a hold on future hunt discussions until the new plan is formulated. It’s expected to be completed in two years.
Meanwhile, in the legislature Orlando Democratic Senator Linda Stewart says she’d like to find a way to ban the bear hunt, but that's not in the cards this legislative session.
“We have to take smaller steps and move forward and I think this bill that we have agreement on is going to be the possibility for this year and it basically continues to look after protection of the bear,” Stewart said
The measure protects the food sources and habitats of bears. It passed out of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee Wednesday. Some experts raised concerns about the impact of a provision that would block prescribed burns in February on certain state lands where bears tend to hibernate.
A Florida bear hunt two years ago ended swiftly as hunters culled the allotted number of bears within just two days after the season opened. Last year officials postponed a second hunt.