Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the state’s first bear hunting season in more than two decades due to a surge in black bear populations, which became a nuisance to many residents.
During the hunt, which is scheduled to start in the last week next month, hunters are allowed to shot down no more than 320 bears. Bear hunting was made illegal in the state more than 20 years ago, allowing populations to rebound.
The wildlife commission took the decision on a 3-2 vote on Aug. 3 in Fort Lauderdale. Supporters of the move argued that there are about 3,000 bears in the state, which makes them no longer an endangered species. Instead the animals often trespass residential locations, they scare people, eat their pets, and forage for food in local dumpsters.
Wildlife officials also announced a campaign designed to teach people how to secure their dumpsters and even purchase bear-resistant containers if they live in an area with many bears.
State lawmakers made illegal bear hunting in 1994, but the 911 calls reporting bear-related incidents and the number of animals killed by vehicles prompted officials to take additional management measures.
A group of 200 people gathered outside the commission’s office to talk about the controversial purge of bears. Conservationists from the Humane Society of the United States believe that the hunt is a bad idea because officials cannot make sure that hunters don’t exceed the maximum 320-limit.
So far, 1,800 hunters obtained permits for bear hunting. Animal welfare advocates claim that all these hunters may flood the state’s forests and exceed the limit in the season’s first weekend and officials can do nothing about it. They also believe that the best solution is to secure trash cans.
“Bears in Florida are not overpopulated, and there’s no need to control their populations through hunting,”
Kate MacFall of the Humane Society told reporters.
But the commission said that there are strict rules that hunters must follow if they wish to take part in the hunt. First, a hunter can only kill a single specimen. Second, hunters aren’t allowed to terminate cubs and need to report a killing in the next 12 hours of gunning down a bear.
Nevertheless, Florida has also a panther population problem. Although the population is not large (about 180 panthers) their tight habitat forces them to come in contact with humans or be hit by vehicles on highways. So, officials are thinking about relocating them to the Everglades where there is enough space to thrive.
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