Despite recommendations from staff to carry out a more “conservative” version of the controversial 2015 Florida Black Bear hunt, which resulted in the deaths of over 300 Bears in a two-day period, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted down another proposed Bear hunt 4-3.
The commission heard from dozens of people who spoke both for and against the hunt. Supporters say it’s necessary to keep the population stable and protect humans living in wooded areas encroaching on Bear habitats. Opponents, meanwhile, say to have a hunt would be incredibly cruel and not based on good science.
Environmentalists and animal rights advocates are obviously happy about the decision, though Florida’s Black Bears aren’t exactly in the clear yet.
From the News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner:
The commission agreed to accept a recommendation for there to be no hunt this year.
“I don’t think it means hunting goes away,” Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski said at the end of a daylong meeting in the rural Franklin County community of Eastpoint.
Yablonski added that the delay will allow non-lethal efforts to take hold. Those efforts include expanding the availability of Bear-proof trash containers in communities with high incidents of Bear-human interactions.
In a media release issued shortly after the decision, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, lauded the decision, which he said reflected the will of not only those who spoke against it Wednesday, but two-thirds of Florida voters who, when surveyed, said they oppose what Pacelle called a trophy hunt.
“Florida residents spoke in overwhelming numbers that they don’t want a trophy hunt, and the commission did the right thing and heeded their sentiments. We hope today’s important action signals a shift to humane, effective Bear management in the Sunshine State. Public education, trash management and other non-lethal methods are more effective and humane than trophy hunting. We thank Commissioners Bergeron, Rivard, Spottswood and Yablonski for listening to the mass of public opinion favouring more humane management.”
The state agency has about $825,000 this year —- due in part to money raised from the 2015 hunt —- to match with money from local governments for the non-lethal options. Commissioner Ron Bergeron, who cast the lone vote against the 2015 hunt, said the one-year delay to gather more data on the bear population in Florida will help the “credibility” of the state agency. “We went 20 years without a hunt, had one last year,” added Commissioner Bo Rivard, who acknowledged that the 2015 hunt wasn’t perfect. “I’m OK with hitting the pause button. Have our staff continue to work on the issue.” More than 80 people addressed the commission Wednesday, with the pro-hunt crowd outnumbered nearly 3-to-1 by people asking to postpone or prohibit future hunts.
Commissioner Aliese P. “Liesa” Priddy warned the commission that it will only hear the same arguments against a hunt next year. “A hunt going forward in 2016 doesn’t mean we’re not going to stop studying the bears,” Priddy said. Opponents, including some who challenged the 2015 hunt in court and some wearing shirts that said “Bear lives matter,” told commissioners they intended to work against any killing of Bears for sport, which they contend will hurt tourism in Florida. “We’ve had two shootings recently that have given Florida a huge black eye,” said Katrina Shadix of Oviedo before the commission vote. “Do we want to add another controversial bear hunt to our image?”
Newton Cook, a member of The Future of Hunting in Florida, said those who question the state agency’s scientists “are wrong” and simply seeking an excuse to call for a delay or postponement of the hunt. “Thirty states have bear hunting,” Cook said. “This is not rocket science.”
But critics of the hunt spent the day pushing for the commission to approve a delay so more scientific data can be collected or to possibly issue a general prohibition on all future hunts. “They need to stop this whole thing, do a complete assessment and then go ahead and determine if it’s viable to have a hunt,” said Adam Sugalski, campaign director for Stop the Florida Bear Hunt. Sugalski admitted after the meeting to being surprised by the commission’s decision. Before the event at a Franklin County school, about 15 protesters mostly from Sugalski’s group were herded into an area taped-off from the parking lot outside the school as they called for the hunt to be cancelled or postponed for at least a year.
So Florida’s Black Bears are safe from trophy hunters…..FOR NOW!!
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