Perhaps the biggest animal protection cause of the year in Florida is stopping the plan to renew the state’s first trophy hunting season on black bears in more than two decades.
I worked with so many concerned Floridians on stopping the hunting in the early 1990s, when the state had just a few hundred bears and hunters chased them down with packs of dogs and shot them from trees. At the time, the federal government recognized that the subspecies warranted federal protection but didn’t complete the action.
Today, after more than 20 years of piecemeal recovery, there may be more than 4,000 bears in the state, but there’s still no compelling rationale for a trophy hunting scheme. Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a weeklong hunt in mid-October, sold nearly as many permits (3,776) as there are bears, and set a “harvest” quota of 321 bears. After just two days, trophy hunters, taking advantage of bears who hadn’t been accustomed to people intent on shooting them on first sight, killed more than 300 of the animals – including 36 lactating mothers. The state was forced to put the word out to hunters in the field to stand down so that they wouldn’t kill far more animals than the quota allowed.
Since then, opposition to this very unpopular hunt has only surged. Four counties and 13 cities have approved resolutions opposing it. Newspaper editorial boards, including the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel, have weighed in to express their opposition. Lifelong hunters are speaking out and saying the hunt should not proceed. There are 28 protests scheduled this weekend around the state in advance of next week’s June 22nd Commission meeting in Eastpoint. One commissioner, a prominent businessman nicknamed Alligator Ron, has been outspoken in saying that the people of the state don’t want the killing to proceed. That was also the finding of an HSUS poll conducted by a reputable polling firm in the state, revealing that more than two-thirds of Florida residents oppose a trophy hunt.
Yes, it’s true that with 20 million people in the state, bears and people occasionally run into each other. But trophy hunters aren’t targeting problem bears – they are going after the biggest bears there are, and they are going after them in the state’s most remote forests.
A trophy hunt is as good for bear control as a strategy of randomly picking people out of a crowd in order to conduct crime control. A better strategy to reduce bear-human interactions would involve educational outreach, proper trash management, and enforced feeding bans.
Commissioners are appointed by the governor but they are charged with taking stock of public opinion and heeding the will of the citizens of the state. The overwhelming message is, manage bear-human interactions humanely and can the trophy hunt. Nobody eats bears, and nobody thinks that the random killing of bears will do a damn thing to reduce the odds of the occasional bear-human encounter.