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First Bear Hunt In Two Decades Gives Enviros Pause

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The first chance in decades to bag a bear is irresistible to Florida hunters. Sales of $100 permits are soaring, even though animal rights activists are asking a judge to declare a cease fire.

Black bears in Florida land in the cross hairs this October with the opening of the first hunting season in more than two decades.

Kevin’s Guns and Sporting Goods, off Tallahassee’s Northeast Capitol Circle, is just what its name promises, an impressive arsenal. In the back of a cavernous showroom, gleaming semiautomatics and revolvers beckon under a glass counter.

And just behind salesman Brock Walker is an endless rack of rifles and shotguns.

Walker says shotguns are out if you want to bring down the state’s largest land mammal. But he also predicts there’ll be a lot of bow hunters.

Up front, manager Miles Glass says bear permit sales have been sluggish in the few days since they debuted. Actually, more like dead. Just one. He’s surprised.

“A lot of your local hunters and local agriculture folks have had a lot of problems with the bears. They’ve been a nuisance as far as tearing up crops, tearing up, say, hunting feeders, that kind of stuff. Feeders are intended to feed the deer.”

Statewide, permit sales hit 1,340 by late Thursday. The season begins October 24th and could last a day or up to a week. The bag limit is one per customer. The bear hast to be 100 pounds or more and it can’t be near cubs.

Permitted areas stretch from South Florida to the Panhandle and include three of Florida’s national forests.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation division director Diane Eggeman doesn’t know yet if the hunters will get their money back if the courts bring everything to a screeching halt.

“So, the agency doesn’t discuss the merits of the pending litigation. However, I can say that the commission validly adopted rules allowing for a limited bear hunt based on sound reasoning and with careful consideration of the issues involved. And we’re confident that the actions will prevail.”

The bear population rebounded from several hundred in the 1970s to more than 3,000 today, according to the FWC. It expects about 320 bears to fall to hunters this year.

But Longwood environmentalist Chuck O’Neal, who filed the law suit, says the numbers don’t add up. He combines the hunt with a new, more aggressive policy for getting rid of nuisance bears, and comes up with a disaster for the bears.

“So, at a two percent growth rate and taking twenty percent away, that can only lead to one thing and that’s putting the black bear back on the road to extinction.”

A Leon County circuit judge is still weighing the argument.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.