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State's proposed bear hunt draws protest

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Stop the Bear Hunt  protesters turned out in Riverside Park on Saturday  to send a message to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Earlier this month, scientists with FWC recommended holding another bear hunt but this time, the hunt could impose more restrictions on hunters. More than 300 black bears were killed at last year's hunt. 

There are 30 similar protests scheduled in counties all around Florida. Protesters are opposed to having a bear hunt of any kind.

"I spent two days at the check stations filming animals coming in. The first was a mother, so now there are cubs out there," said Adam Sugalski, campaign director of Stop the Florida Bear Hunt.

FWC is scheduled to meet June 22 to discuss another bear hunt. Officials tell News4Jax they'll consider options. If another hunt is approved, it could contain some restrictions on hunters.

The staff recommendation, which is described as "more conservative" than the 2015 hunt, would reduce the hunt to areas in which human-bear conflicts most often happen, prohibit hunting bears when any other bears are present, set additional restrictions on hunting near game feeding stations, and require hunters to tag bears right away. 

Sugalski says it's not enough.

"We want them to call the hunt off. If they do have a hunt, they really need to change the rules. The big thing we want them to do is they need to do an accurate population count. Their count is from before the hunt, last year," Sugalski said.

FWC could recommend, that the first hunting period begin October 21, with the second four-day period starting October 26 and the third on October 31.

Finding a balance between humans and bears has become a challenge. Hunter Chris Beladi says the he, his friends and family did their part to keep the numbers in check. Beladi participated in the hunt last year and thinks it’s a good way to help.

"The population needs to be managed. Unless we relocate bears to another state where there’s more room, I believe the only way would be to hunt them,” Beladi said.

 A hunt last October was planned for up to seven days but was called off after two days because hunters quickly approached the quota of 320 bears. The overall number of bears targeted this year could be up since the state has increased the estimated number of adult black bears to 4,350. For the 2015 hunt, in which 304 bears were killed, the agency estimated there were about 3,500 bears in the state.