Florida Black Bear Hunt Underway, Despite Protests

Photo: De Agostini / C. Dani & I. Jeske/Rex/REX USA
Despite protests from animal welfare activists, Florida's bear-hunting tradition was revived on Saturday for the first time since 1972. Along with bear-proofing public trash cans and rules against feeding bears, the hunting season was announced to curb dangerous human-bear run-ins, NPR reported in February, when the hunt was first publicized.

In addition to having to purchase a permit and have any kills inspected within 12 hours of shooting a bear, Florida hunters were also told to expect protesters — and cautioned hunters to maintain civility.

"All eyes in Florida and beyond will be on you," warned an Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) email sent to bear-hunting permit holders.

The Orlando Sentinal reports the FWC had sold 3,543 bear-hunting permits by Friday afternoon, which translates to more than one hunter for each of the estimated 3,500 wild bears within the state's borders. That doesn't mean those 3,500 animals will be wiped out, though. The FWC established a quota of 320 bears and says it will end the hunting season early if the quota is met faster than expected.

In fact, the FWC has already shut down hunting in the East Panhandle and Central Florida regions after 207 bears were killed on Saturday alone.

While the state's bear population has rebounded in recent years, animal welfare activists and organizations, including the Humane Society, oppose the hunt, as they worry it will erode wildlife conservation progress.

"Research overwhelmingly shows that hunting bears in the woods doesn’t reduce problems with bears in neighborhoods," Kate MacFall, Florida state director for The Humane Society said in a statement. "The state would be better off helping citizens manage trash and outdoor food sources. Unfortunately for bears, most of Florida’s wildlife commissioners failed to listen to the overwhelming majority of Floridians who publicly opposed the hunt."

Some protestors have even directly threatened the bear hunters, likening them to Walter Palmer, the now-infamous dentist who trophy-hunted Zimbabwe's Cecil the Lion in early July. A local organization called Speak Up Wekiva unsuccessfully sued to stop the hunt on the grounds that the state's bear population remains at risk of extinction. The group particularly opposes the FWC allowing female bears to be hunted, which could potentially orphan cubs.

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