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Politics / Issues

Florida House Acts To Stiffen Penalties On Bear Poaching

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Bear signs stand erect in high traffic areas around Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY AIRMAN 1st CLASS ISAIAH J. SOLIZ

Fines for killing black bears out of season would increase under legislation passed unanimously Wednesday by the Florida House.

The bill (HB 327) would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to kill a bear or possess a freshly killed bear during a closed season, up from a second-degree misdemeanor.

A subsequent offense would make the violator permanently ineligible for any Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission license or permit. Similar fines are already in place for poaching deer and turkey out of season.

Bill sponsor David Smith, R-Winter Springs, said the proposal is driven by constituents concerned about a proliferation of bears being illegally killed for their gall bladders.

“People don’t come to visit or come to live in Florida because we have great strip malls. It’s our wildlife, it’s our waterways, it’s our green space that makes Florida Florida,” Smith said. “This bill goes to protect that.”

Bear bile, secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, can bring in hundreds to thousands of dollars on the black market, where it is promoted as a cure for numerous ills.

The bill also would lead to third-degree felony charges for anyone who possesses for sale or sells a bear that had been killed outside a designated hunting season.

An identical Senate bill (SB 688) was approved this week by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.