Florida's bear-management plan could again include hunting

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PHOTO VIA TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE
  • Photo via Tyndall Air Force Base

Techniques to manage Florida’s black bear population over the next decade, including the possibility of regulated hunting, will be among the items the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission considers during a meeting next month.

The updated bear-management plan is slated for discussion the morning of Dec. 11, with public comments limited to “no more than 3 hours,” according to an agenda posted on the commission’s website.

The commission’s staff is not making any direct recommendation about controversial bear hunts, or any other bear management options, according to the agenda for the next month’s meeting at the Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City.

A 209-page draft report summarizes several population-management techniques that could be expanded or used, including contracted shooting and trapping; fertility control; manipulating habitats by reducing vegetation near suburban and urban areas; regulated hunts; and relocating adult female bears and their 3- to 4-month-old cubs.

“While the plan does not recommend any particular population management option, it does indicate that current human and bear population growth rates in Florida will require the FWC to manage the bear population at some point,” Kipp Frohlich, FWC director of Habitat and Species Conservation, wrote in a summary of the proposal posted on the website. Most of the feedback on the plan has been supportive, Frohlich wrote in the summary.

“However, stakeholders and members of the public have strong feelings for and against the use of regulated hunting to manage the bear population,” he added. Since 2006, Florida has had 13 incidents of people requiring medical treatment because of encounters with bears, including eight since 2012.

“If the management practices outlined in this plan are not implemented, there is a high likelihood of increasing negative interactions between bears and people,” Frolich noted in the summary. The goal of the management plan is to keep the state’s bear population of about 4,000 above the 3,000 mark.

Management options also include continuing use of the BearWise program, which started in 2016 and has used proceeds from sales of Conserve Wildlife license plates and legislative funding to assist local governments in providing residents and businesses with bear-resistant trash containers.

Another suggested technique involves working with the Florida Department of Transportation to reduce collisions between vehicles and bears. In 2018, the commission requested the transportation agency modify 20 bridges with fencing to guide wildlife, including bears, under roadways.

The plan is to replace a statewide bear-management framework created in 2012. The state’s bear population has grown from 300 to 500 in the late 1970s to more than 4,000 following a controversial 2015 hunt that remains the only time hunting black bears has been permitted in Florida in more than two decades.

The October 2015 hunt resulted in 304 bears being killed in two days.

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