After 20 years of not hunting for bears in Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is considering lifting the ban. After travelling to Jacksonville and testifying on the behalf of the poor old black bears before the FWC, I was surprised to hear the radio blast that evening saying the illustrious FWC will probably lift the ban on bear hunting this year. A lengthy presentation had been given by Dr. Thomas Eason, Floridaâ€™s bear habitat expert, in which he stated several times that hunting is only one of several optional techniques that may be employed to solve the bear/human conflict. This is why it was very difficult to understand the news report. I can only assume the news reporter didnâ€™t hear the presentation. I canâ€™t imagine a state agency intentionally misleading the public on a matter so important. Not in Florida for sure.
Probably the most emphasized strategy was that of utilizing â€œbearproofâ€ garbage containers (MSRP: $200 a clip). I suggested a can of Red Pepper would solve the problem a lot cheaper. The big problem here is the fact that weâ€™ve let the development go out into the bearsâ€™ territory, so naturally, having such great noses (like dogs do), they tend to seek out the food scraps in the garbage cans rather than forage naturally. I know from being a Mother Earth News advocate and reader back in the â€™70s that food scraps should be composted for the flower beds and garden and not thrown out in the trash. Unfortunately our newer Floridians donâ€™t possess such knowledge.
Another item of interest in the presentation was the fact that unpermitted humans are gathering up all the Saw Palmetto berries to sell to drug companies for prostate medicine, so the mother bearsâ€™ favorite baby food is nearly non-existent. I suggested the Commission remove the unpermitted humans from the bear habitat. They really liked that suggestion.
It turns out that there are only about 3,000 bears left in the whole state. One thousand are in the Ocala National Forest, the biggest conglomeration. Unfortunately, there are only 20 left in Chassahowitzka, which brings up a slight tangent: The bear corridor between Chassahowitzka and Ocala has been overdeveloped as of late so the chromosome diversity is next to nonexistent. A reasonably large tract, the Annutteliga Hammock, is on the Florida Forever list for purchase by the state, but according to an FWC representative I talked to last week, that parcel was lower on the priority list because of the REAL ESTATE VALUE. In other words, there is intense human migration to that area that is causing inflation in the real estate value there. Depending on the results of the legislature this year, there could be enough funding to make that parcel a purchase for preservation. But more likely there may be legislation that actually exempts many of the doc stamp payers, thus reducing the actual funds available under Amendment 1. What a cheap way to avoid the peopleâ€™s will.
There were over 3,000 bear-related incidents last year in Florida reported to the FWC dispatchers. Most of the calls were bear sightings, but some were incidents of damage of some sort. Seven people were actually injured by bears. In every case where there was injury, the persons had either molested or fed the bears. So one suggestion was to classify bears with crocodilians under the No Feeding lawsâ€¦ Make it strictly illegal to feed them. I suggested that the FWC include the manatees in this classification and beef up the enforcement of feeding laws for all. (Manatees are being openly fed lettuce daily at Homosassa and Crystal rivers by tour guides in order to photograph their clients with the critters, contrary to the existing law.)
Permitting for taking bears in case of property damage in situations where bear deterrent methods are not working, where there are no non-lethal options available such as large agricultural areas, is one of the rule changes being considered along with tighter and more aggressive removal of nuisance bears.
The most blatant observation I was able to make was the fact that Dr. Eason stated as a matter of fact that even though the FWC does NOT know how many bears there actually are (the newest data is from 2010), the Commission intends to move forward with these new policies. Of course hunting and euthanasia are big parts of the policy changes. It seems like they should at least know the numbers before they implement the policy changes. I think the bears are outnumbered.
If you would like to help the bears, please send an email to the FWC Commissioners (contact information can be found at http:// myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/contact-commissioners/). This page will give you the prompt for the email.
- Hunting should be the LAST RESORT. It doesnâ€™t solve the human/bear conflict.
- Tougher restrictions on human/bear interaction should be enforced.
- The FWC should have their facts and figures before making any rule change.
-Whitey Markle, Conservation Chair