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Federal protection sought for black bears

File photo.
File photo.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Conservation and animal-protection groups want a federal endangered-species protection designation for Florida black bears before another hunt may be held in the state.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with more than a dozen groups, filed a petition Thursday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that seeks to place the black bear under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the proposal is intended to "make sure the bear has a place in Florida's future."

The groups note the bear population has been able to grow from between 300 to 500 in the 1970s to around 3,500 due in part to being listed as threatened by the state.

However, that designation was lifted in 2012 when a new management plan was approved.

In October, the state held what resulted in a two-day hunt in four parts of the state, with 304 bears killed -- 16 short of the so-called "harvest objective."

The Center for Biological Diversity estimates at least 590 bears were killed in Florida last year, when factoring in the hunt, habitat loss and road kill.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hasn't made any decisions about a future hunt.

Florida lawmakers included $500,000 to reduce human-bear conflicts in the state's new $82 billion budget, which Gov. Rick Scott signed late Thursday.

The money is to match local dollars in purchasing bear-resistant garbage containers.

The budget specifies that at least 60 percent of the money has to go to local governments that have "an ordinance in place focused on resolving issues associated with bear attractants and garbage."