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People cause bear deaths for a number of reasons, including bears hit by cars, bears removed from neighborhoods and bears killed in the hunt. Last year, 677 bears were killed due to humans, though the FWC says this is less than the 20 percent annual mortality needed to achieve a healthy number of bears. At a public webinar in May, FWC bear management program coordinator Dave Telesco says the agency is “throwing everything and the kitchen sink” at the problem of managing the bear population, including educating residents, seeking voluntary compliance in securing trashcans, and removing and hunting bears. “We want to make sure that future generations can enjoy and appreciate healthy and abundant bear populations,” Wiley wrote in a column for the Orlando Sentinel. “If this growth is not carefully monitored and controlled, it can spell danger for bears and humans.”
But in a recent letter to the FWC, three biologists say the agency needs to do a more complete demographic analysis before it approves another hunt.
Matthew Aresco, director at the Nokuse Plantation, says he and his colleagues wrote to the FWC after noticing the agency wasn’t collecting data on the sex and age class ratios of each black bear subpopulation to determine age-specific survival and reproduction rates. Using demographic data from previous studies of Florida’s Central Bear Management Unit, the scientists say the number of bears killed by cars, euthanization and the hunt was five times the sustainable rate for a stable population. The scientists also called for the state’s national forests and federal land to be designated as black bear sanctuaries, saying any hunting of the bears should occur outside those sanctuaries.
“Knowing how many you have in a population doesn’t tell you how many you can harvest out of the population and not go into decline,” he says. “They’re already using these techniques for other species. Other than the population estimates, they’re not using the best available practices for bears.”
Aresco says the group met with wildlife officials in January to tell them their concerns, but the FWC was resistant. They don’t know why the FWC chose not to do this study for bears, when it is conducted on an annual basis for fish species like red drum, snook and spotted seatrout.
“The concern with not collecting this data is population decline,” he says. “You don’t know what the effects of hunting will be until it’s too late. The bears could go back on the threatened species list. You would have to do all the things you did before to try to recover it.”
In response to the letter, FWC spokeswoman Tammy Sapp says in a statement that the agency’s science on bear conservation is “some of the best in the country and was developed by our biologists in partnership with the University of Tennessee and the University of Florida.”
“We disagree with many of the assertions made in this letter, but we will continue to work with anyone who has questions about Florida’s growing bear population,” she says.
And as FWC’s director has pointed out, the hunt may not lessen the conflicts between humans and bears, which is what Lake Mary resident Eddie Selover was actually interested in.