Florida may restart bear hunting season after 4 attacks
Published: February 4, 2015
JACKSONVILLE — With Florida’s black bear population rebounding from near extinction just decades ago, wildlife officials in the state are considering reopening hunting season on the animals.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was scheduled Wednesday to hear a presentation from its staff that considers the use of limited hunting to help control the population, an idea that has raised the hackles of animal rights advocates.
“There is no single answer to eliminating human/bear conflicts, but a comprehensive approach applying several measures together can greatly reduce the likelihood of serious incidents or attacks in the future,” said Thomas Eason, director of habitat and species conservation for the commission, in a study to be presented Wednesday.
Florida’s black bear population appears to be booming from the Panhandle to Big Cypress National Preserve near Miami, and in between.
Officials say the bear population dwindled to between 300 and 500 in 1974, when hunting was closed in all but three counties. Hunting was shut down statewide in 1994.
Calls from people due to conflict with bears have increased by 400 percent over the past decade. In 1990, 33 bears were killed by cars – 285 were reported as road kill in 2012, according to state data.
While there have been only 16 people injured by bears in Florida since 1976, when the state began collecting numbers, four attacks have happened in the past year.
The most recent was Dec. 20 in the Florida Panhandle, where a 15-year-old girl walking her dog was attacked. She suffered cuts on her head and face, as well as claw and bite marks on her back, arm and leg.
Wildlife officials say they euthanized four bears found in the area and relocated two cubs.
Right now, 32 of the 41 states with bear populations allow hunting to help control numbers.
Two other attacks occurred in the Orlando suburb of Lake M ary – all four incidents involved people walking their dogs.
As part of a strategy that includes responding more intensely to bear interactions with humans, providing residents with bear-resistant trash cans and educating people who live near bear habitat, opening a week long hunting season in the fall is being considered.
Animal rights activists are challenging the state’s belief that hunting can be used to help control bears.
“Killing bears deep in the woods who aren’t causing problems is the wrong approach” said Kate McFall of the Humane Society of the U.S. “Voters want humane, effective solutions to conflicts with bears, such as bear-wise trash management, hazing and public education.”
Indeed, the state says two counties in which bear resistant trash containers have been provided saw significant drops in interactions. In Oskaloosa County, there were 55 percent fewer interactions after new trash cans were in use, and 95 percent fewer in Volusia County.