Hours before Florida’s black bear hunt was scheduled to begin, about 100 conservation and animal rights activists held a final protest on the corner of Washington Street and Rosalind Avenue.
The Orlando protest against the bear hunt, which is set to begin this Saturday, Oct. 24 and end on Friday, Oct. 30, joined others across the state in major cities. After four bear attacks, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation commissioners began considering the hunt, and ultimately set a quota of 320 bears from the estimated 3,300 Florida bear population. Out of the 40,000 responses to the FWC's decisions, 75 percent opposed the hunt, but commissioners decided to continue with their plans. Gov. Rick Scott, who appoints those commissioners, has said he will not stop the hunt. Carla Wilson, who organized the Orlando rally, says she and her husband started going to FWC’s bear workshops about three years ago hoping to stop the idea of hunting the mammal. Since then, wildlife officials have said the hunt won't temper the threat of future attacks and have proposed the hunt as a population control method
“They’re going to blow up the bears this weekend, but they’re not addressing the problem, which is bears going into neighborhoods for food," she says. "A simple solution like bear-proof garbage cans would have solved this problem."
Environmental groups, including Speak Up Wekiva, traveled to Tallahassee earlier in October to testify in an emergency hearing before Circuit Judge George Reynolds to stop the hunt. Reynolds denied a petition for a temporary injunction against the hunt, saying the FWC had a made a scientific basis for the hunt, but could have waited until a more recent bear population study was released. Recently, opponents of the hunt have been emailing
people who have bought the bear-hunting permits, urging them not to hunt. Conservation and animal activists also plan to monitor the bear check-in stations across Florida.
Shirlene Stuckey says she will be at one of those stations this weekend, and feels the bear hunt is not just about people who enjoy hunting, but about development in the state.
“It’s the underlying, unspoken reason," she says. "If you eliminate the next generation of bears, there’s won’t be enough reason to have those bear corridors, and that land can be developed.”
Former HLN host Jane Velez-Mitchell traveled from New York to Orlando for the protest and asked people to shame hunters on social media.
“The people of Florida don’t really want this, but they’re being totally ignored by the FWC, which is packed with a bunch of hacks,” she says. “These bloodthirsty hunters are overruling everybody else. This is going to hurt Florida’s image.”
The FWC is bringing in a pretty penny from the sale of 3,217 bear-hunting permits, to the tune of about $300,000, according to the Tampa Bay Times
. FWC's executive director Nick Wiley told the paper he was going to ask for $200,000 to $250,000 of that money be used for "bear-proof trash cans in suburban areas where bears have proved to be a nuisance, and on such educational efforts as distributing fliers showing how to avoid attracting bears into back yards.”