The Latest: Officials say bear hunt in Florida ran smoothly

27 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amid outcry, Fla. says short bear hunt season ran smoothly.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Hunters killed 298 black bears over the weekend during the first legal hunt in Florida in more than two decades, state wildlife officials said Monday. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ended the first bear hunt in 21 years early Sunday night after confirming that 295 bears had been killed, just shy of the 320-bear statewide limit. Florida approved the hunt earlier this year, saying the state’s black bear population had grown too large and that attacks on people had become more common. As Florida has become the third-most populous state in the U.S., people have continued moving deeper into bear habitat at a time when the animals’ numbers have grown.

The hunt started as planned on Saturday morning just before dawn, but state game regulators had been made so well aware of public disapproval by then that they were on hyper-alert, if not flat-out on the defensive, about the whole thing. Diane Eggeman, commission director of hunting and game management, said the truncated hunt will give officials some guidance on what steps are needed to manage a bear population of about 3,000 that has had more frequent run-ins with humans in recent years. Part of the reason for the bear’s comeback was the state’s ban on hunting after black bear numbers plummeted into the hundreds, giving them legal protections meant to preserve imperiled species. By that night, hunters in the Eastern Panhandle area had killed 81 bears, double the quota for the region, and in Central Florida, they had killed 99 of the 100-bear quota. With animal lovers protesting the decision to open hunting season on bears, more than 3,500 people purchased bear hunting permits, even though the cap was just 320.

My strong suspicion is that without all the protests, the FWC would have likely erred on the side of letting the hunt go on an extra day or two even so, rather than irritate those 3,799 people who were so geared up for this rare chance to kill one of Florida’s bears. Most of the bears killed were in the Florida Panhandle and Central Florida, although hunting permits was authorized across South Florida, including Palm Beach County. We could have ended up, after adding in the late arriving bear-kill reports, with a body count well above 320 before officials casually blew the stop whistle. Although state officials admitted they were “surprised” by the number of bears that were killed by hunters, they said Monday they anticipate holding bear hunts on an annual basis as now occurs in 32 other states. Keeping the bear population in check in check is important, he says, because it helps ensure the strongest bears survive and that the genetic makeup of the entire species improves. “I don’t think it’s because of overwhelming interest in it,” Artiles said. “I think it’s because there’s more bears out there than people think.” Still, Artiles says he thinks the FWC handled the hunt well.

They also continued to defend the hunt, saying it was heavily regulated and that they remained in constant contact with the hunters who received permits via text message, social media and email. With fresher bear population estimates due next year, though, he’s calling for a lottery system to make sure the same few hunters don’t bag all the bears every year. “I wasn’t able to hunt because the quota was met,” he said, “but to any hunter who says ‘I missed this opportunity,’ there will be further opportunities.” Hunters had been advised on how to avoid creating bear orphans that way, if they bothered to read the literature provided by the Florida Wildlife Commission.

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