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Despite Objections, Commission Setting The Table For Bear Hunt (Again)

The Florida Black Bear
Southwest Florida Water Management District

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission got an earful at its regular meeting in Jupiter Florida this week.  Even though it wasn’t on the agenda, numerous public commenters voiced opposition to holding another bear hunt.

Last October, Florida held its first bear season in just over 20 years.  To say things didn’t go well would be an understatement.

“We are asking everybody to be civil respectful,” Commission Chair Brian Yablonski said at the opening of public comment Wednesday.  “We’ve got—I know there are a lot of folks here that want to comment on the bear situation, we’ve got a lot of folks here on other issues as well.”

Public commenters on both days of the commission meeting spoke out against plans for another bear hunt this year.  Here’s James Woodard.

“As a native of Florida who spends all of my free time in nature enjoying our plants and wildlife,” James Woodard said, “I am offended that my opinion and the opinions of those that enjoy nature as passive observers, seems to be all but ignored.”

“With all due respect—we are stakeholders.”

But those critics weren’t a monolith.

A precocious girl named Megan Sorbo came to the meeting toting a pink fold-up kitchen stool.  She needed it to reach the microphone at the podium.

“First of all I want you to know that I mean no disrespect to any of you even if I disagree with some of your decisions,” she began before diving into the specifics.

“If this agency feels that the population of Florida black bears is approaching a level of being overpopulated,” she said, “and in addition, if the technology and resources exist to estimate the bear population by DNA collected in fur samples, then I believe it is safe to expect that there are ways to implement non-lethal ways to manage the bear population in our state.”

State officials planned on a week-long hunt last year but shuttered it after just two days.  Hunters in some areas brought in more than double their regional quota.  To Jennifer Leon this points to mismanagement.  She says the commission should be stingier when it comes to licenses.

“Limitless permits,” she said in disbelief, “likely the most absurd element of last year’s hunt.” 

“Licenses were sold indiscriminately up through the final hour before the hunt to hunters who were not even required to take basic training,” she went on.

But there were supporters of the hunt in attendance, too.  This is Newton Cook—he sits on a number of boards for pro-hunting groups.

“All I can say is,” Cook began, “is this bear hunt is the best thing that ever happened for the bears in Florida, because it will keep them under the population levels they should be in their habitats.  The males will quit eating the cubs, they’ll stop driving the other bears out of the habitats, into the suburbs, across the roads where they get run over.”

“Overpopulation is a disaster.”

And FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley says the bear population is growing. 

“Comparing to the previous survey work we did in 2002,” he explained, “with the new estimates bear populations nearly doubled in the east Panhandle to about 1,080 bears.”

All told, Wiley says there are roughly 4,300 adult bears across the state with another 2,000 cubs on top of that.  

Wiley and commission members tout their success securing money in the state Legislature for bear resistant trashcans and dumpsters, but it appears that won’t be the only prong in their bear management plan.  Yablonski says an annual bear hunt is already established by rule—it’s the commission’s job to determine quotas.

“So what I’d like is between now and June for commissioners to weigh in with staff with their thoughts on anything and everything on this,” he explained.  “And for staff to reach out to stakeholders as well and get their input and then what they would do is come back in June with what I would call a range of options.”

The commission will discuss that range of options at its next hearing in Apalachicola this June.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.