Despite the recommendation of the state’s own wildlife management experts, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (“FWC”) voted 4 to 3 not to hold a black bear hunt in 2016. Commissioners Aliese Priddy, Charles Roberts and Richard Hanas voted in favor of the hunt; Commissioners Brian Yablonski, Bo Rivard, Robert Spottswood, and Ron Bergeron voted against the hunt. At an all-day hearing on June 22, anti-hunting speakers outnumbered hunters by about 3 to 1. The anti-hunters testified based on emotion and their testimony largely ignored the science supporting black bear hunting in Florida in 2016.
In their support of the 2016 hunt, FWC staff “used the latest, cutting-edge, peer-reviewed science to develop a recommendation” for a hunt that was more conservative than last year’s harvest. FWC staff analyzed last year’s hunt and recommended focusing hunting in areas of high human-bear conflict, limiting the number of permits issued, and prohibiting the hunting of bears with cubs. FWC staff have been working with a world renowned black bear expert to help establish up-to-date population numbers to ensure the recommended harvest numbers would be sustainable. FWC staff also obtained a favorable review of the state’s black bear management program, including the proposed hunt, by a panel of seven black-bear experts from around the country. The experts also concluded that “hunting is an appropriate response to address human-bear conflicts in Florida.”
In 2015, the Commission voted 6 to 1 to hold a hunt with a harvest of no more than 320 bears. That 2015 harvest was within the statewide limit (although some bear management units experienced higher than expected harvest levels). As FWC staff based this year’s recommended hunt on improved and updated science and made the hunt more conservative than last year, it is difficult to understand why three Commissioners who voted in favor of a hunt last year rejected the recommendation of their expert wildlife managers this year. Perhaps these Commissioners need to be reminded that the Florida legislature:
recognizes that hunting, fishing, and the taking of game are a valued part of the cultural heritage of Florida and should be forever preserved for Floridians … [and] that these activities play an important part in the state’s economy and in the conservation, preservation, and management of the state’s natural areas and resources.
Florida Statutes, § 379.104 (providing that “the citizens of Florida have a right to hunt, fish, and take game, subject to the regulations and restrictions prescribed by general law and by s. 9, Art. IV of the State Constitution.”).
It will be up to sportsmen and women to advocate strongly during the coming year for science-based wildlife management and the preservation of the valued cultural heritage of hunting. Florida hunters must come out in numbers and present sound arguments in favor of a black bear hunt to make certain that Florida’s wildlife management and recreational opportunities are supported by sound science and not swayed by emotion.
Learn more about SCI Foundation’s work with bears here and read our latest First for Wildlife update on the International Conference on Bear Research and Management.
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