This year, Florida’s unique black bears have nothing to fear when fall hunting season rolls around. The state has postponed its black bear hunt at least until fall of 2017, thanks in part to Defenders of Wildlife. We urged the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to use this time to work to restore the public’s trust after last year’s contentious hunt. And fortunately for the bears, the FWC listened.
The tie-breaking vote at Wednesday’s meeting came from FWC Chair Brian Yablonski, who cited my testimony in his decision. Specifically, he noted my suggestions to foster collaboration among all stakeholders on this issue, and take time to fully assess the impact of the 2015 hunt before taking more action.
Last year’s hunt, the state’s first in over 20 years, was suspended after hunters killed an incredible 304 of the 321-bear quota in only the first two days. The hunt was supposed to last a week. The FWC Wildlife Commission faced a severe public outcry in the aftermath, when it was revealed in the media that hunters had shot bears near feeding stations as well as mother bears and young bears that were under the size requirement.
Successful conservation efforts have allowed the Florida black bear population to increase from a low of only 300-500 in the 1970s to more than 4,000 today. During this same time, Florida’s human population grew from around eight million to 20 million people. As a result, bears and humans are coming into contact and conflict more frequently as development spreads into formerly-wild lands and bears are attracted to unsecured garbage in neighborhoods and killed on roads.
Defenders has worked for more than two decades in Florida to conserve a statewide wildlife habitat network and engage in transportation planning that avoids fragmentation. We also advocate for wildlife crossings so that bears and other wildlife, such as endangered Florida panthers, can move throughout their ranges safely. We have pioneered bear education and outreach programs that encourage responsible homeowner practices, such as securing trash and other food attractants. Defenders spearheaded the Conserve Wildlife license plate, which has raised $7.4 million for programs that benefit the Florida black bear and a wide variety of other wildlife species. Funding for bears has included conservation, management and research as well as support for resources like bear-proof trashcans. Coexistence is the key to making sure that people can share the landscape with Florida’s incredible native species.
We are very pleased that the FWC is stepping back and taking the time to more carefully assess the full range of non-lethal tools for Florida black bear management instead of heading immediately into a second hunt. All Florida species deserve good stewardship, and Defenders of Wildlife is working hard to ensure that bears and other wildlife in the state are able to thrive for generations to come.