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Florida wildlife officials look to address bear population without hunt

State eyes black bear management strategies

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Under a proposed new management plan, Florida wildlife officials are not recommending the state hold another bear hunt.

Techniques to manage Florida's black bear population over the next decade are outlined in the draft of an updated 10-year plan released Tuesday.

The 209-page draft from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers ways to keep the state's bear population of about 4,000 above the 3,000 mark.

The draft is now open for public comment and will go before the commission in December.

READ: 2019 Draft Update Florida Black Bear Management Plan

The draft summarizes several population management techniques that could be expanded or used, including contracted shooting and trapping; fertility control; manipulating habitats by reducing vegetation near suburban and urban areas; regulated hunts; and relocating adult female bears and their 3- to 4-month-old cubs.

The state's bear population has grown from 300 to 500 in the late 1970s to more than 4,000 following a controversial 2015 hunt that remains the only time hunting black bears has been permitted in Florida in 21 years.

The 2015 hunt was held despite widespread criticism from residents, animal advocates and local leaders. Nearly 3,800 permits were sold to kill 320 bears, but hunters killed so many bears in the hunt's opening weekend -- 304 -- that FWC had to shut it down after two days. 

While FWC's new plan does mention hunting as a population tool, no recommendation was made to hold another hunt similar to four years ago.

"We are happy the staff isn't pushing this," said Adam Sugalski, executive director of local animal advocacy group OneProtest, said. "We know they spent a lot of time on this plan, but we're cautiously optimistic."

Sugalski agreed the number of bears needs to be addressed, however, he said there are ways other than a mass hunt.

"If the bears do reach a point where they want to have a hunt or they say the population needs a hunt, we think they should have a more ethical way of doing it -- as far as maybe sterilization and means like that," Sugalski said. "There's better ways than just letting a bunch of people free in the woods to blow the bears away."

Sugalski stressed the bears first need attractant control and not population control. A big part of limiting that attraction starts at home. 

While spending time outdoors, residents should be aware of their surroundings to avoid potential conflicts with bears. To keep bears away from your home and neighborhood, follow these simple steps:

  • Secure household garbage in a sturdy shed, garage or a bear-resistant container. 
  • Put household garbage out on morning of pickup rather than the night before. 
  • Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters. 
  • Protect gardens, beehives, compost and livestock with electric fencing. 
  • Encourage your homeowners association or local government to institute ordinances on keeping foods that attract wildlife secure. 
  • Feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding outdoors. 
  • Clean grills and store them in a secure place. 
  • Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant. 
  • Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground.

RELATED RESOURCE: Living with bears in Florida

The staff report doesn't recommend the commission implement any of the management practices.

Still, the draft says, "If the management practices outlined in this plan are not implemented, there is a high likelihood of increasing negative interactions between bears and people."

Florida has had 13 incidents since 2006 of people requiring medical treatment because of encounters with bears, including eight since 2012.

Management options also include continuing use of the BearWise program, which started in 2016 and has used proceeds from sales of Conserve Wildlife license plates and legislative funding to assist local governments in providing residents and businesses with bear-resistant trash containers.

Another suggested technique involves working with the Florida Department of Transportation to reduce the chances of collisions between vehicles and bears.

In 2018, the commission requested the transportation agency modify 20 bridges with fencing to guide wildlife, including bears, under roadways.

The commission will take public comment through Nov. 6 via an online survey and will hold webinars Oct. 24 and Oct. 29. The plan is to replace a statewide bear management framework created in 2012.