ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted today to approve an October hunting season for the rare Florida black bear that could wipe out 20 percent of the population. The decision comes despite overwhelming opposition from Floridians and in the absence of recent data indicating how many bears there are in Florida.
“The hunt is a betrayal of this intelligent animal and a slap in the face to Floridians who love the Florida black bear,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We take their land, run them over with cars, and then shoot them when they become habituated to our trash — our bears deserve better.”
Scientific studies show that hunting is not an effective population management tool. The best ways to minimize human-bear interactions are to secure trash and use nonlethal methods of addressing problem bears. In the long term, bears will need ample habitat, unencumbered by roads and sprawl.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified the Florida back bear, a subspecies of the American black bear, as a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1982. In January 1991 the Service determined that protection of bear was warranted, but precluded due to higher priority listing actions. On December 8, 1998, the agency determined that listing the Florida black bear was not warranted, in part due to the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to safeguard the animal — specifically, Florida’s conservation efforts.
Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had protected the Florida black bear as threatened for decades, but in August 2012, removed it from Florida’s threatened species list in favor of putting in place a series of new and amended rules. The proposal to hunt emerged after a recent spike in human-bear interactions driven by unchecked development and habitat destruction.
The Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) currently only enjoys 18 percent of its original Florida habitat, and has been divided into seven subpopulations largely due to development. This severe habitat loss has resulted in two main effects: smaller populations and increased threats to black bear survival, such as road kill. It is estimated that Florida once supported approximately 11,000 black bears; the last population surveys in 2002, placed the population at between 2,500 and 3,000. Meanwhile road-kill mortality has consistently increased from 33 in 1990 to 196 in 2014, with a peak of 285 bear deaths in 2012. Since 2002 there have been 2,192 black bear deaths in Florida solely due to car collisions.
More than 175,000 people reached out to the commission in opposition to the hunt. About 250 people indicated support of the hunt.
“It’s clear the majority of the commissioners were simply dead-set on approving a bear hunt, regardless of the science, the facts or public opinion,” said Lopez. “How telling that they refused to just wait a year until they completed surveys so they could know how many Florida black bears are even left.”