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Bear Hunting Proposal To Get Hearing This Month

Daniel Arndt

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials have released a plan to open a bear hunting season for the first time in two decades. They’ll discuss the details of the proposal at an FWC commission meeting scheduled for later this month. Wildlife officials claim a hunt is needed to address a rising number of bear attacks as the smell of foot pulls bears out of the woods and into neighborhoods,

If you want to understand the bear situation in Florida hop in a truck and drive through the panhandle.

Kaitlin Goode, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission drives through Franklin County. It was there a few months ago that a bear attacked a teenager while she walked her dog near a convenience store.

Garbage is strewn through the woods and across the road at a recycling center for appliances a few miles away. Goode says the bears can’t help but drag tasty things back into the woods.

"So these communities are backed right up to the forest and it’s just a bear pump. They’re doing really good in there and they smell this. They might be in the middle of the woods, but they smell this," Goode says.

This area is mostly forests. Bears are making a comeback here and in the rest of Florida. In 2002 when the agency did its last population count, there were about 3,000 bears. Now they’re counting again. Thomas Eason, the state director of Habitat Species Coordination, expects the population to have grown significantly because of increased bear sightings.

"As your get more bears, particularly with more people you start having more and more negative interactions. And so finding that balance point that we call cultural carrying capacity is important," Eason says.

The FWC wants new feeding rules—something that's under consideration in legislature now. And officials say widespread use of bear proof trash cans is needed. But Eason also says hunting is part of the plan to reduce bear conflicts. But environmentalists are upset. Kate MacFall of the Humane Society of the United States, says there’s no evidence a hunt will help.

“It’s a recreational activity that a small percentage of the population wants to do. But in terms of decreasing human bear conflicts. There is no science that supports that,” MacFall says.

MacFall says if wildlife officials want to reduce bear attacks they need to focus on getting people to stop feeding bears – whether it’s intentional or letting the animals go through the trash.

If none of these solutions work, some wonder about zoos.

Caster, a 20-year old black bear who lives at the Tallahassee Museum. During the fall, the bear needs to consume more than 15,000 calories daily and animal curator Mike Jones says that drive for food is what landed Caster here.

He started going to everybody’s houses and going in garages. So the Fish and Wildlife Service relocated him and moved him about 150 miles away into a big swamp area,” Jones says.

But Caster couldn’t stay away from people so officials moved him to a zoo. He’s lucky. Last year Florida Fish and Wildlife officials had to kill almost 50 bears that had started to associate humans with food.

The FWC will discuss the new bear hunting proposal at its commission meeting later this month, final adoption of the plan could come as early as June. The plan includes bear permits, which would cost a Florida resident $100. The season would last a week, but could close earlier if bears are taken more quickly than expected. Hunting with bait and dogs would be prohibited.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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