Commission authorizes hunt of 320 bears

File photo.
File photo.

SARASOTA, Fla. – More than 2,800 people have applied to take part in Florida's first black bear hunt in more than 20 years. It begins on Saturday, and opponents continue to push back.

From Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 83 bears were euthanized by the Fish and Wildlife Commission, prompting a dozen protests across the state, planned for Friday. Those protest locations can be found right here. Permits cost $100 and are available through Friday.

Laura Reeder, 15, was attacked by a bear as she walked her dog just before Christmas last year.

"She got tooth marks on her head," said Stan Kirkland, of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Bite marks on her arms and legs."

The bear was later caught and killed.

Another bear broke into two porches in June. It was captured and euthanized by wildlife officials.

"Once an adult bear is used to people, there's really nothing we can do to reverse that," said David Telesco, a FWC bear management technician.

Beginning Saturday, Florida will open what could be a one-week bear season. More than 2,800 hunters have paid a $100 fee for the chance to take one of 320 bears. Environmentalists tried to stop the hunt, arguing in court that the bears are sitting ducks.

"These bears haven't been hunted in more than 20 years," said Ralph Brooks, of Stand Up Wekiva. "They are not as afraid of people, as perhaps, bears that are being hunted."

Hunter Wayne McDaniel doesn't see it that way.

"It's just like the alligators," McDaniel said. "We have to regulate them to keep the numbers down. There have been bear attacks on many dogs, even people, and it's not going to be long before someone can get killed."

Opponents aren't going quietly, planning the protests for Friday, including one at the commission that authorized the hunt.

"We don't have a bear problem," said Laura Bevan, a spokeswoman for the Human Society of the United States. "We have a garbage problem, and the wildlife commission didn't address it sufficiently."

While scheduled for a week, the hunt is expected to be cancelled once the quota of 320 bears is reached.