Florida

Florida wildlife officials put one-year pause on bear hunting

Florida wildlife officials voted to hold off on future bear hunts in the state until they can gather more information.

After nearly seven hours of comments from staff and the public on Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 not to hold a bear hunt this year. The Commission then voted 4-3 to delay holding a hunt for at least one year as they gather more information about the state's growing bear population and options on how best to manage it.

The meeting was held at Franklin County School in Eastpoint, which is in the Florida Panhandle.

Last year, hunters killed 304 bears in the state's first hunt in 21 years. The Florida Wildlife Federation, which supports ethical hunting as long as it protects the environment, supported a one-year moratorium on a hunt.

Commission staff had recommended a limited hunt broken into three, four-day periods, where hunters would apply for permits on a first-come, first-served basis for specific dates and zones.

They also heard proposals that included holding another hunt that has the same rules as last year or putting a hunt off indefinitely. Both did not receive much consideration.

"This is not for a lack of science but a policy call," said FWC commissioner Bo Rivard.

FWC chairman Brian Yablonski ended up being the swing vote as he sided with those asking for a pause.

Yablonski said he thinks the scientific data gathered by staff supported holding a hunt this year but that it came down to more than science. He also added that a pause doesn't mean that this issue will keep getting delayed.

FWC officials acknowledged that last year's hunt did not go smoothly. The state sold permits to nearly 3,800 people. The hunt was supposed to take place for a week but was ended after two days when the numbers of bears killed came close to the harvest objective of 320.

Data released in March had the state's bear population at 4,350, which was a 60 percent increase over 14 years.

Bear hunting advocates cited increased interactions with humans and also that they had become nuisances by getting into garbage. The number of bears hit by cars and nuisance calls have sharply increased over the past four years, according to state data from FWC.

Hunting opponents said garbage cans need to be better secured or not placed out until the night before pickup along with increased education for homeowners.

"You are trying to balance society with a growing bear population. That is something that is not unique to Florida," said Jennifer Vashon, who is Maine's top bear expert and one of seven biologists brought in to review Florida's proposals.