Over the heated objections of animal rights activists, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted Wednesday to approve the first bear hunting season in two decades and critics are already threatening lawsuits.
Commissioners listened to hours of testimony and were accused of everything from blood lust to political cronyism. Protestors wore anti-hunting stickers and frequently erupted in cheers.
Frank Jackalone, a Sierra Club of Florida activist, said overdevelopment, not a growing bear population, is the main reason for increased human-bear encounters.
“The majority of Floridians who are nature lovers, want to see Florida black bears protected. The Sierra Club will use every means necessary, legal and political, to challenge and oppose this plan if you vote to approve it today.”
Commission biologist say the proposed season is part of a long-term management plan, not the result of a string of recent bear attacks. Supporters say a season is backed by a growing population and augmented with public education programs stressing anti-bear garbage containers.
“We are aware that lessening human bear conflict is not the main goal, but if this hunt should help to decrease such conflicts, we are happy to assist," said 15-year-old Hanna Hodges of Tallahassee, a member of the Future of Hunting in Florida, who was one of only a handful of supporters who braved hecklers to testify.
Some protestors blasted Chairman Richard Corbett for recent public comments describing them as being driven by emotion. Corbett shot back, claiming he was misquoted. Permits will be available in August and cost $100 for state residents. Hunters have a one-bear limit, cannot hunt at night or use dogs, and their kill must weigh more than 100 pounds.