Bear hunting in Florida may once again be legal.
After being outlawed over 20 years ago, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is meeting next month to consider drawing up a bear hunting plan to help manage the states burgeoning bruin population.
Human-bear interactions are up all over the Sunshine State, and public safety plays a large role in the states bear management plan. While hunting alone will certainly not address the recent rise in bear attacks on people, David Telesco, bear management coordinator for the FWC, recently told the Sun-Sentinel that the rise in attacks has accelerated the proposal.
“It’s not going to solve bear-human conflicts, but it is going to be a pressure release on the population,” he said.
Logging, urban development and hunting in past decades led to a severe decline in Florida’s bear population, and after bear hunting was banned in many areas in the 1970s, a statewide ban went in to effect in 1994.
In the 1950s, in fact, there were only an estimated 500 bears throughout the state. The latest count in 2002, however, revealed that the bear population had rebounded to over 3,000 animals; many expect todays population to be much higher.
Just last month a 15-year-old girl in Eastpoint, Florida was attacked and mauled by a black bear. The young girl was attacked by the bear that drug her off the road and mauled her, until her dog intervened and scared the bear away. In the same month, a bear was struck by a car in Broward County (near the Everglades), which resulted in a multiple-vehicle accident that left three people dead.
While the bear population is increasing statewide, the proposal (if accepted) would likely only allow hunting in the Central & Panhandle parts of the state. While many areas, including my home town of Lehigh Acres, have seen an increase in human-bear interactions, the initial focus of the plan will be an areas with the largest populations.
Of the 41 U.S. states with black bears, 32 currently allow hunting. “Bears are a renewable resource,” according to Telesco. “We’re kind of oddball in not hunting.”
If the Commission votes on February 4th in Jacksonville to accept the proposal, a plan could be presented as early as April.