TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The state this October would open its first black-bear hunting season in two decades, under a set of rules that will be reviewed next week.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has proposed that about 275 black bears be killed in mid-October as part of a two-pronged effort to control the woodland creatures and reduce the risk of dangerous interactions between bears and the state’s growing population.
Along with the proposal about reducing the bear population through a one-bear-per-hunter hunt, the commission during an April 14 meeting at Florida A&M University also will consider rules about the proper maintenance of garbage containers for businesses and homeowners. Bears are often attracted to populated areas by garbage.
The commission could vote on the changes during a June meeting.
Diane Eggeman, director of the commission’s Division of Hunting and Game Management, said the hunt is simply another step in managing the bear population.
“The bear population has grown for the last 15 years or 20 years, steadily and pretty rapidly, based upon all the information that we have,” Eggeman said. “So our job, of the agency, is to manage that growing population and the best tool to manage that population growth across the board is to use hunting.”
The feeding rules for bears are intended to clarify when people might be in violation for repeatedly failing to secure garbage cans or dumpsters.
The call to re-implement the hunt follows a number of bear attacks that occurred across Central Florida the past couple of years.
However, the proposal is opposed by the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and the Humane Society of the United States.
Kate MacFall, the Humane Society’s Florida director, said the state is only listening to a handful of “trophy hunters” instead of doing more to make people aware of bears and to enforce codes regarding trash containment.
“We don’t think we need to decrease the bear population, we need to reduce the conflicts for everyone’s benefit,” MacFall said.
She also questioned how the hunt will reduce conflicts.
“The bears being hunted are the big bears deep in the woods, because you can’t go hunting in the neighborhoods. That’s not how it works,” MacFall said. “Those deep in the woods, those are not the problem bears. And the bears going into human trash are the problem. And those are the ones not being hunted.”
Eggeman responded that the hunt is needed to keep the bear population in check.
“The more the (bear) population grows, the more likely bears move out of the wildlife and into neighborhoods,” Eggeman said.
While the current number of black bears in Florida is an estimate, Eggeman noted that Florida is the only state that has more than 600 but doesn’t have a hunting season.
Florida has an estimated 2,500 black bears in the four regions of the state — the eastern Panhandle, Northeast Florida, east-central Florida and South Florida — where the hunts would be conducted. Each area had more than 200 bears by a 2002 estimate.
Black bears were placed on the state’s threatened list in 1974, when there were between 300 and 500 across Florida. At the time, hunting black bear was limited to three counties.
In 1994, the hunting season was closed statewide.
By 2002, the state black-bear population was estimated at 3,000. A decade later the bear was removed from the state’s list of threatened animals.
Meanwhile, the state has recorded a 400 percent increase in bear-related calls over the past decade.
This year, the hunt would begin Oct. 24 and continue for a week. However, the number of days could be shortened if the “harvest objective” is reached in fewer days.
“The season timing would coincide with high bear activity and before denning begins,” a commission staff presentation on bear hunting says. “Cubs would be old enough to be independent. This timing was chosen to avoid overlap with deer-dog hunting or training seasons.”
The cost for a bear permit is proposed at $100 for Floridians, $300 for non-Florida residents.
The daytime hunts would be prohibited within 100 yards of any game-feeding station.
Hunters would be allowed to use bows, crossbows, muzzle loading guns, rifles, pistols, revolvers and shotguns.
Dogs would be prohibited from hunting bear, but leashed canines could be used to trail shot bears.
“The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.”