Like the Lorax and his Truffula Tree stump, 10-year-old Megan Sorbo and her pink footstool have traveled from podium to podium across the state to speak for those who can’t – Florida’s black bears.
Before and after 304 bears were killed last fall in the state’s first bear hunt in over 20 years, the Orlando girl spoke passionately to wildlife officials, politicians and anyone who will listen about why it’s important to preserve the black bear, which was listed as a state-designated threatened species until 2012.
“The majority of Floridians don't want our bears to be killed,” she recently told Brevard County commissioners, according to Florida Today. “Bears have already lost over 80 percent of their habitat, and have done nothing to deserve being killed.”
After the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a weeklong hunt in October 2015, it sold 3,776 bear-hunting permits and set a “harvest” quota of 321 bears for the entire state. After numerous protests, a lawsuit and an unsuccessful call on Gov. Rick Scott to stop it, the wildly unpopular hunt ended quickly after hunters killed more than 300 bears – including 36 lactating mothers – in the span of two days and received international attention. Since then, four counties and 13 cities have approved resolutions opposing the hunt, but despite continued public opposition, FWC commissioners, who are appointed by Scott, will consider holding a second bear hunt at their June 22 meeting in Eastpoint.
Megan knows there will likely be another bear hunt, but she and other activists say they don’t plan on going down quietly. Ever since the enchantment of the Everglades captured her imagination when she was 7, Megan says she’s been persistent in this quest to save the bears and help preserve Florida for her generation and the next.
“This is my heart and soul,” she says. “Wildlife are always going to be in peril, so I’ll never stop fighting for them.”
On the flip side of that coin, FWC officials have called the 2015 bear hunt “highly successful.”
Bear conservation efforts have helped the population grow from a mere 300 to 500 bears statewide in the 1970s to an estimated 4,350 bears before the October hunt, including 1,230 in the bear management unit for Central Florida, according to the FWC. The agency’s biologists also estimate that 2,000 cubs are born each year.
As the bears’ traditional habitats are replaced with shiny new developments, that means more bear-human contact. The FWC reports a jump in the bear-related calls they receive, from 1,143 calls in 2000 to 6,094 calls in 2015. More than half of those calls were regarding general interaction with bears and bears rifling through garbage. After four bear attacks on humans in 2013 and 2014, the FWC decided to revisit the hunting ban on the animals, though FWC executive director Nick Wiley told the Tampa Bay Times the hunt was not a solution to conflicts.
“It’s to control the bear population,” he said. “We don’t know for sure it will lessen the conflicts. We don’t have the science to prove it.”