In yet another dramatic turn in a long-running battle over contrasting views of proper wildlife management, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted by a 4-3 margin not to proceed with a black bear hunt in Florida. The especially good news is that the commissioners voted to maintain the moratorium through the end of 2018 and to delay revisiting the issue until 2019.
Last year, the commission, by the same vote, cancelled a proposed hunt for 2016, after an enormous outpouring of public concern and protests. Many of the state’s newspapers opposed the hunt, and there were demonstrations in counties throughout the Sunshine state. Scientists offered their views that a hunt was premature, and would do nothing to resolve the occasional conflicts between people and bears. In 2015, trophy hunters killed more than 300 bears, including 36 lactating females, orphaning at least another 80 cubs who died from starvation or predation. The percentage of females killed was extraordinarily high — a sign of excessive killing.
The HSUS has opposed this trophy hunt from the beginning. In fact, it was The HSUS and The Fund for Animals that worked to stop the hunt in the early 1990s and subsequently pushed hard for the Florida black bear to be listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that our petition was correct on the science, but the agency had so many other urgent listing actions to take up that it did not officially place the bears on the list of federally protected species.
Bear numbers have increased in the last quarter century, but so has the human population, in an especially dramatic way. Bears are being hemmed in, with roads, settlements, and other human activities dividing and shrinking their habitats. Bears face more risks than ever in terms of roadkills and habitat loss.
Yesterday’s commission vote was a critically important moment for bear protection in Florida and in the United States. These creatures won’t face, in the fall, armed men and women trudging through the woods to kill them for no good reason.
Now it’s up to all of us as members of a civil society to show tolerance for the bears and to educate residents in bear-occupied areas to put both patience and problem-solving skills to work to show that two highly intelligent, charismatic species can indeed co-exist.