Forty years ago, there were several hundred bears in Florida.
Today there are more than 3,000 of them as the state’s largest land mammal have recovered from the verge of extinction because of human hunting and destruction, also by humans, of the bear’s natural habitat.
More than one-third of the Florida black bear population now live in Ocala National Forest where they are happily living among fruitful fruit and nut trees.
In fact, black bears are so plentiful in the state of Florida, you’re more likely to encounter one now than at any time since the last 100 years.
The strong numbers of black bears in the state has led to another problem in terms of the cycle of life and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is opening up hunting again for the black bears. It’s the first sanctioned hunt in more than 20 years.
This month, hunters can apply for licences to hunt bears in specific location.
These are the rules outlined by the FWC:
- No taking bears over bait
- Bears may not be taken if the hunter or the bear is less than 100 yards from a game feeding station when feed is present
- No processed foods may be used at game feeding stations in any area of the state with an established season for taking bears, except that pelletized feeds, flavored corns or other grains, and mineral or vitamin supplements specifically and exclusively
- No taking of bears with dogs except that dogs on leash may be used for trailing wounded or killed bears
- All firearms and archery equipment currently allowed for deer (and formerly allowed for bears) would be allowed and restrictions on them the same as for deer hunting (and formerly for bear hunting). That includes: Bows, Crossbows, Rifles, Pistols, Revolvers, Shotguns and Muzzleloaders.
- No wasting any game (e.g., deer, bear) that has been wounded or killed by a person while hunting. Waste means to intentionally fail to make a reasonable effort to retrieve a wounded or killed animal and render it for consumption or use.
Hunters are allowed one bear per person per season, no harvesting of cub bears under 100 pounds or bears with one or more cub bears. Hunters are also forbidden to sell, trade, barter or exchange bear parts.
Wildlife activists are trying to stop the hunt. The Orlando Sentinel reports that about 100 animal-welfare advocates rallied last months waving signs that read “Too Cute to Shoot” and “Killing Is not Conservation.”
They had hoped to stop the Florida bear hunt set to begin Oct. 24 but the courts rejected their application.
Now animal activists are organizing groups to look for cub bears during the hunt as “bear hunt monitors.”
So far, 2,200 hunters have obtained state licenses to kill bears, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
A gallery of photos from the Fish and Wildlife Commission in Florida can be viewed here