Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bear Hunt Rallies Sierrans Across Florida

Opposition to the first black bear hunt in 21 years sparks protests across the state.

A rally outside of the offices of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission in downtown St. Petersburg made local and national news.
Despite a widely supported legal battle, statewide protests, and condemnation by editorial boards and community leaders, the first sanctioned Florida Black Bear hunt in 21 years ended after two days with the deaths of 298 reported bears. The number of unreported killings is unknown.

 After months of hearings and debate, the one-week hunt was approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in an attempt to cull what the FWC considered an overpopulation of the black bear in certain areas of the state. A legal filing by Speak Up Wekiva which was supported by Sierra Club Florida aimed to stop the hunt but failed.

The Florida black bear was removed from the threatened species list in 2012.  An increase in reportings of “nuisance” bears and an unscientific guesstimate of current population (around 3,000) led the FWC to call for a hunt. The state sold 3,778 bear hunting permits, more than one hunter per bear in the state.
Sierra activism began earlier this year when the FWC held public workshops in Tallahassee, Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale.  Members and supporters packed the hearings to voice stern opposition to the scientific need for a hunt, instead urging the commission to address the human behaviors (waste management)  that are leading bears to trash cans and backyards.

Days prior to the hunt, Sierra Club groups unified with other supporters in a dozen rallies across the state to protest the hunt.  Members joined forces  in Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Sarasota, Gainesville, Orlando, Miami,  Tampa and Petersburg, among other cities.

The FWC says it plans to hold the hunt annually.
The Florida black bear made a silent statement
during an FWC public hearing before the vote.

Frank Jackalone, Staff Director of Florida Sierra Club, expressed outrage in several media stories on behalf of the club and millions of bear hunt opponents.  “We are doubling our efforts to get this bear hunt canceled permanently,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “We will go to the courts. We will go back to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. We will go back to the governor and we will go to the people of  Florida.”

In a guest column  in the Tampa Bay Times, conservation photojournalist Carlton Ward Jr., a leader in the Florida Wildlife Corridor Project,  expressed concern for the long-term survival of the Florida black bear if unrelenting development continues. He calls for the immediate use of $500 million in Amendment 1 funds to go toward land conservation, targeting wildlife corridors for bear subpopulations and easements for working farms and ranches.
“I hope that the bears that died  … will capture our attention and send us down a path to connect a statewide network of conservation lands for the future of their species and ours,” he said in his commentary.


 A petition to FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley to Stop Killing the Black Bear can be found at www.change.org/p/nick-wiley-executive-director-fwc-stop-killing-black-bears