On Thursday, Oct. 1, Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds denied a motion for an injunction to stop the state's first black bear hunt in more than 20 years.
Environmental groups, including members of Speak Up Wekiva, traveled to Tallahassee on Oct. 1 to testify in an emergency hearing asking the court to prevent the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from moving forward with black bear season, scheduled to begin on Oct. 24.
Among their reasons for making the request, Speak Up Wekiva says, is that the FWC does not have any way to make sure that people hunting bears have appropriate permits to do so, because it doesn't plan to have check-in points for hunters entering wildlife management areas. The organization also argues that there is no way for the state to accurately know when its "harvest objective" of 320 bears has been reached – and since 2,000 permits have been issued for the hunt, many environmental activists are concerned that the number of bears killed could quickly overcome the objective.
Speak Up Wekiva sued the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission earlier this year over its controversial decision to allow a one-week bear season to take place in the first place – it's the first time in decades that Florida has allowed people to hunt black bears, which are considered a threatened species in the state. Speak Up Wekiva's suit states that in opening up bear season, the FWC is abdicating its constitutionally mandated mission to preserve the state's natural resources.
The group filed a petition for a temporary injunction against the hunt until the lawsuit could work its way through court, but Reynolds denied the request, saying the FWC had made a successful scientific basis for the hunt, but that it "could have had some better timing" if it waited to begin the hunt until after an in-progress population study could be completed.
Speak Up Wekiva says it is now asking for members of the public to volunteer to be bear hunt monitors while the hunt is ongoing. Monitors will document the hunt by photographing cars taking dead bears off wildlife-management properties and take down license-plate information for each vehicle carrying dead bears so Speak Up Wekiva can ensure that people killing the bears have hunting permits. The organization also wants volunteers to look for cubs that may have been orphaned during the hunt. The organization plans to have wildlife experts at the ready to get orphaned cubs to rehab.
"While we remain hopeful that this hunt will be stopped," the organization states in its call for volunteers, "we ask for volunteers to be prepared to minimize the damage done and protect the Florida black bear from the gross negligence of the FWC."
If you're interested in being a bear hunt monitor, visit speakupwekiva.com.