Seminole County asks FWC to stop future bear hunts


Seminole County commissioners, over opposition from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Tuesday they don't want another statewide bear hunt.

Or, at least, they don't want such a hunt in their backyard.

County commissioners, who in December established outdoor trash rules for homeowners as a way to reduce human encounters with black bears, unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday asking the state agency to reinstate a ban on bear hunting in Florida. The resolution also asks the state agency to maintain a focus on "reducing human-bear conflicts through deterrent techniques and habitat management."

The resolution, which joins similar requests from Volusia and Miami-Dade counties, said that if a hunt occurs, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission should "at a minimum" prohibit the hunt in part of the state that includes Seminole County.

"We're just simply saying, we want you to look at that Central (bear management) district, not just Seminole County, but the Central district, and say, 'Is that really the right thing to do in this community?' " Commissioner Brenda Carey said. "We don't think so."

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in October held the state's first bear hunt in more than two decades. The state commission is expected during a meeting June 22 and June 23 in Apalachicola to discuss the possibility of holding another hunt.

The agency also will hold webinars Thursday and June 2 to discuss the state's bear management programs.

Before the Seminole County resolution was adopted, Shannon Wright, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Northeast regional director, told the county commissioners that the action would go against the science the state agency uses to control the state's growing bear population, which can include a bear hunt.

"We understand that you are under pressure to adopt a resolution, but doing the right thing isn't always easy," Wright said. "We have provided proven scientific information that supports our management efforts of bears. And should you adopt the resolution it would be clear that you're not making the decision based on that information."

The state agency estimates Florida has 4,350 adult bears, with 1,230 in its Central bear management region, which includes all or parts of Alachua, Bradford, Brevard, Clay, Flagler, Lake, Marion, Orange, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter and Volusia counties. The region's estimated bear population has grown nearly 20 percent since 2002.

The two-day hunt in October led to 304 bears getting killed, with four of the bears in Seminole County.

The state agency also said Seminole County has accounted for more calls to the bear-nuisance hotline than any other part of the state.

But commissioner said incidents involving bears have noticeably declined since an ordinance was enacted in December that set rules for trash containers and leaving food outdoors.

"Our program is working, and I think the bears are looking in other locations," County Commissioner Lee Constantine said.

This year, Florida lawmakers included $500,000 in the state's new budget to reduce human-bear conflicts. The money is earmarked to match local dollars in purchasing bear-resistant garbage containers.

The state agency has been working with 14 counties that have the most incidents of human-bear conflicts on ordinances needed to receive the state money.


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