Back in June, state officials decided to allow bear hunting in Florida for the first time in 20 years. The season will open on Oct. 24, and could last for up to a week. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the hunt is part of its comprehensive bear management plan, and will be open in four of the seven “Bear Management Units.”
This week on Florida Matters (Tuesday, July 21 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 26 at 7:30 a.m.) we take a look at the rise of the black bear population -- and their shrinking habitat – with Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition veteran and bear biologist Joe Guthrie and Dr. Thomas Eason, director of habitat and species conservation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
EASON: Contrary to how it’s being portrayed in the media in a lot of circumstances, the hunt is not about solving human-bear conflicts in suburban areas. The good news is Florida as a whole has been successful at recovering black bears from historically low levels, and we’re now working to manage that success. And part of that is managing bear populations, which hunting is a well-established, effective way to help manage bear populations across the country.
COOPER: Back in June of 2012, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission removed the bear from the state’s threatened species list. That means officials believe the bear is no longer at high risk of extinction – is that what that means?
EASON: Yes, and that’s part of the conservation success story. Bears had been state listed as a threatened species for a couple of decades, and the good work lots of people, including Joe [Guthrie] and others, has led to populations expanding from historic, remote areas and increasing in density to where they no longer meet the criteria for being considered at elevated risk of extinction here in Florida.
COOPER: Now, Joe Guthrie, you’re the bear expert here, certainly not me. But from what I’ve learned, Florida bears are solitary, they’re not territorial, they don’t defend their range from other bears, they have excellent eye sight, hearing and especially, and excellent sense of smell. And I think folks who have gone camping or left their garbage cans out know all about that. What kind of personality does the Florida bear have? What’s its disposition?
GUTHRIE: It really comes down to the individual bear. They’re very interesting animals, very intelligent and adaptable. They use a wide variety of habitats over the course of the year, moving from one hot spot to the next, where there’s good fruiting -- food available -- hot spots. Their disposition, I guess, can be summed up as just highly, highly adaptable, sensitive to food availability, human pressure, pressure from roads. So they’re animals capable of making complex decisions.
But as far as their personalities, they’re generally a retiring, shy animal. People live their whole lives in Florida and don’t see them. They live in the woods, they’re surprisingly hard to see in the forest with their black coats.
They’re highly attuned to what’s going on around them, so often times when they sense humans, they will high-tail it, and be out of sight long before they’re seen.
COOPER: Dr. Eason, is there a target number of bears that FWC would like to see culled from the current population?
EASON: Our management efforts, again in those four areas where we have strong, growing bear populations, the goal is to work to stabilize them at current levels, so our harvest objective is tailored within each of those "Bear Management Units" to try to achieve that.