FWC proposes return of black bear hunting in parts of Florida

Environmental organization Sierra Club Florida opposes hunting option

File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Bear attacks and nuisance complaints could result in Florida bringing back a hunting season for the animal. The state's wildlife agency said they're running out of options.

Environmental organization Sierra Club Florida opposes the hunting option saying, "The number of bear human confrontations has gone up in other states that have allowed the animals to be hunted."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be discussing the proposal at their meeting in Jacksonville in two weeks.

Leah Reeder was out walking her dog in the Florida panhandle last month when she was brutally attacked by a bear.

She was one of four bear attack victims in the past year throughout the state. Add the attacks to thousands of nuisance complaints throughout Florida.

"We're at a point where bear populations are strong and expanding, and we're having more and more conflicts, more and more killed on the highways," said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley.

The FWC is proposing bringing back black bear hunting in some areas of the state. Putting bears in the crosshairs has been illegal since 1994.

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The FWC wouldn't need the Legislature's approval to change the rule, but some lawmakers are still hesitant.

"I asked my 9-year-old granddaughter, 'Do you think we should kill these bears?' and she said, 'Can't they find another home for them?'" said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

"There's a public safety concern. Our first and foremost responsibility is taking care of the residents. Maybe we can do a catch and release program," said Sen. Rene Garcia, of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The FWC said hunting is only one option. They'd rather be more active with education and training communities on how to keep bears away from the public as well as providing more bear-proof trash cans.

"We don't believe hunting alone would solve any of those concerns we have with people and bear conflicts, not to mention the attacks we've had in the last year and a half," Wiley said.

It's estimated that Florida has at least 3,000 bears. That number was hovering around just 500 about 60 years ago.