One Step Closer to Limited Bear Hunting in Florida

By Dana Kobilinsky

Black bear Black bears frequently show up in urban areas in Florida, causing an increase in human-bear conflict. In response to the state’s growing population of black bears, the FWC has approved several rules relating to black bear management that will be voted on in June.
Image Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a proposal for limited bear hunting at a recent meeting where they discussed ways to manage the state’s thriving population of black bears (Ursus americanus floridanus).

“Bear populations have grown over the last 15 to 20 years,” said FWC Chairman Richard Corbett in a press release. “It is our responsibility to manage these populations, and hunting is an important and effective tool to help us do so.”

The meeting, held last week in Tallahassee, followed an initial meeting in February where the FWC discussed policy changes and introduced the possibility of bear hunts to reduce the black bear population in Florida.

At last week’s meeting, FWC commissioners unanimously approved the proposal to allow limited black bear hunting in four of Florida’s bear management units. The four units, with the highest black-bear populations in the state, include the three national forests in Florida — Apalachicola, Osceola and Ocala National Forests — and the southern-most part of Florida. If the rule is passed after a final vote in June, licensed hunters with an appropriate bear hunting permit will be allowed to hunt bears for a week on both private and public lands, albeit without the use of bait or dogs. However, if the management objective for any of the four units is reached, the FWC said the bear hunt season in that unit might end earlier than the suggested week-long hunt.

In addition, FWC staff will refine the Bear, Fox and Raccoon Feeding Rule, which includes rules and restrictions on feeding wildlife, by creating a separate subsection for bears.

The commissioners also approved the use of a depredation permit to be used in certain situations, under the bear conservation rule. The permit allows landowners to shoot and remove bears if they’re damaging their property as long as other measures such as electric fencing have failed or cannot be used. Further, the permit can only be used if FWC staff hasn’t been able to trap the bear within four nights.

At the meeting, FWC officials stressed the importance of educating the public on ways to co-exist with bears and subsequently minimize human-bear conflict. In fact, staff is currently working on a policy paper about the need to reduce conflict by implementing sound waste management strategies, which will be ready for review at the June meeting.

“Education is key. We know that bear feeding is an issue, so we need to continue to be proactive and responsive with our efforts,” Corbett said. “Properly securing garbage and other attractants is the single most important action for reducing conflict situations with bears.”

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

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