Florida's statewide black bear hunt is over, but those who have opposed the hunt from the start said they are still worried about bears that could still be in danger.
Members of the group Speak Up Wekiva said they believe many of the bears killed were mother bears still lactating. Bear hunt opponents said there could now be as many as 300 bear cubs without a mother, and they want to find them.
"FWC opened the gates of hell on the black bear, and we're just trying to pick up the pieces," said Chuck O'Neal, with Speak Up Wekiva.
The group lost a legal battle to stop the black bear hunt, but dozens of volunteers watched over the weekend as hunters brought in bears they had killed.
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Speak Up Wekiva members claimed about one-third of the bears killed during the hunt may have been mother bears still nursing cubs, and they plan on sending in volunteers — including their own wildlife experts — to find the now-orphaned cubs.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the cubs should all be about 8–9 months old. According to FWC, research shows cubs can live on their own after about 5 months old.
Speak Up Wekiva disagrees. The group said it believes hundreds of cubs will die if left to fend for themselves.
"They're getting food from their mother, so they haven't learned how to get food or water on their own," O'Neal said.
Speak Up Wekiva said it is waiting at least 48 hours after the end of the hunt — which ended Saturday night in Central Florida and Sunday night statewide — before going into the woods to look for cubs.
The group said it believes there could still be shot or wounded bears still back in the woods that aren't dead.
"Any human walking into their path would likely receive the brunt of their wrath," O'Neal said.
Wildlife officials said they were investigating potential violations. Bears under 100 pounds were off limits during the hunt, and the FWC has already issued a criminal citation to one hunter on the Florida Panhandle who killed a 42-pound bear, and a warning to a Central Florida hunter who killed an 88-pound bear.
So far, however, the agency has not mentioned any specific action toward any hunters for killing mother bears that had cubs with her, which were also off limits during the bear hunt.
Speak Up Wekiva is now blaming FWC and Gov. Rick Scott for what they called a "weekend slaughter."
"We have a state in shock right now, and it's through his negligence and his actions," O'Neal said. "If he was a decent man, he would resign from office."
"The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for the safety of both Floridians and the people who visit here," Scott said Monday. "Also, they want to take care of the protected wildlife. So, they went through this process, and I think they made a good decision."
Speak Up Wekiva said when its volunteers find what they believe are orphaned cubs, they will simply report their location to FWC, hoping wildlife officials will trap the cubs and move them to a wildlife sanctuary.