Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fla. Debates Whether Black Bear 'Conflict Management' Calls for Another Hunt

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fla. Debates Whether Black Bear 'Conflict Management' Calls for Another Hunt

Article excerpt

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering another statewide hunt for the state's largest land mammal, following a controversial October hunt that killed roughly 300 bears in just two days, the first in more than 20 years.

But first, the the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is holding webinars intended to educate the public about black bear management and gather feedback before it decides on another round of hunting. The first webinar was held Thursday, with others scheduled for May 31 and June 2.

The plan, which has already been met with fierce opposition from wildlife conservationists, is a response to the population surge of the once-threatened mammal. Until recently, the bears were considered "threatened," with as few as 300 believed to remain in Florida. Hunting them was banned in all but three counties in 1974, and then across the state in 1994, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

By the early 2000s, however, the population had climbed back to about 3,000 - what the FWC now calls "one of Florida's biggest conservation success stories." Black bears were removed from "threatened" status in 2012.

But conservationists and officials have strongly differed over whether the bears are truly out of danger, and whether safe management should include bear hunts.

"As bear numbers have grown over the past decade and human population has increased, we entered the next phase of management, which is conflict management," FWC said last year in an April 2015 draft rule, according to local ABC station WFTV. "In recent years conflict has increased dramatically. Bear calls have increased 400 percent over the last decade."

In 2015, after some residents reported run-ins with the bears, including a few who were attacked, state officials responded by permitting a week-long bear hunt with a quota of 320 kills. Hunters approached the limit in just one weekend, however, and the hunt was then called off.

Now, officials estimate that there are 4,350 black bears in the state. But some conservationists are questioning the numbers. …

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