The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, meeting Wednesday in Tallahassee, will tackle the details of how to conduct black bear hunting in the state following a 20-year closure.
Diane Eggeman, director of the division of hunting and game management, will present draft rules on season length, bag and size limits, permit fees, harvest methods and which hunting grounds will be open. Thomas Eason, division director of habitat and species conservation, will follow up with proposals for additional bear management rules, such as permitting homeowners to take out nuisance bears after all other countermeasures have failed; allowing law enforcement officers to haze problem bears — use non-lethal means to discourage them from remaining in an area — without obtaining permits; and penalizing residents in bear country who fail to secure their garbage.
If approved, those draft rules would go to a final vote at the commission’s next meeting in June.
“Hunting is one tool we have in a very comprehensive approach to bear management,” Eggeman said. “Bear populations are growing rapidly in Florida. To keep the population within the limits of social tolerance, hunting is the best solution.”
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Commissioners voted in February to resume bear hunting following a handful of serious attacks on people in Central Florida and the eastern Panhandle. Two decades of careful bear management, they say, has boosted the bear population to more than 3,000 — up from only a few hundred in the 1970s — and the species was removed from the state’s threatened list in 2012.
A healthy bear population has meant more interactions with humans; bear complaints have increased 400 percent over the past decade.
Some of the new draft hunting rules include:
▪ Issuing permits on request to Florida residents for $100 and non-residents for $300;
▪ Opening bear hunting on private and some public lands in four areas of the state including South Florida where deer hunting currently is allowed;
▪ Establishing a one-week season, Oct. 24-30 this year, with daylight hunting only;
▪ Imposing a limit of one bear per person per season;
▪ Limiting harvest to male and female bears with a minimum weight of 100 pounds;
▪ Prohibiting harvest of a female accompanied by cubs;
▪ Prohibiting hunting with dogs except to track a bear that has been shot;
▪ Prohibiting baiting;
▪ Requiring all hunters to present harvested bears at established check stations.
The agency’s target is a 20 percent reduction in population in regions with an abundance of bears. For the South Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe, Palm Beach, Collier, Lee and Hendry, the harvest objective is 130 animals. Eggeman said that once those targets are met, hunting season would be closed.
The only public hunting grounds open for bear season in the south region would be Picayune Strand near Naples; OK Slough straddling Collier and Hendry counties; and Spirit of the Wild about 40 miles northeast of Fort Myers. Despite what biologists call a “healthy” bear population, the vast wilderness of the Big Cypress National Preserve would not be open for hunting this year. Eggeman said adding bears to the list of hunted species in the Big Cypress would require a federal environmental review, which could not be completed before the season’s opening in October.
As expected, animal rights groups are not happy about resuming bear hunts.
In a statement issued April 1 — the same day the hunting proposals were released publicly — Kate McFall, Florida state director for the Humane Society of the United States, called them “more appropriate to an April Fool’s Day joke than sound public policy.”
“The best available science overwhelmingly demonstrates that bear hunting does not reduce human-bear conflicts or make people safer,” McFall said.
Proposed bear hunting rules
These are some of the rules that will be considered when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission meets Wednesday in Tallahassee. Bear hunting hasn’t been allowed in Florida for 20 years.
▪ Permits to be issued on request to Florida residents for $100 and non-residents for $300.
▪ Allow bear hunting on private and some public lands in four areas of the state including South Florida where deer hunting currently is allowed.
▪ Establish a one-week season, Oct. 24-30 this year, with daylight hunting only.
▪ Impose a limit of one bear per person per season.
▪ Limit harvest to bears with a minimum weight of 100 pounds.
▪ Prohibit harvest of a female accompanied by cubs.
▪ Prohibit hunting with dogs except to track a bear that has been shot.
▪ Prohibit baiting.
▪ Require all hunters to present harvested bears at established check stations.