After 21 years, it will now be legal to hunt bears for a week-long period in Florida.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday approved the week-long hunt on a 6 to 1 vote. It will take place Oct. 24-30.
“It is necessary to remove some of these bears from these habitats or they are going to end up in the suburbs, where it is a death sentence,” said Newton Cook, who came up from Jupiter to attend the meeting Wednesday. He said he planned on going bear hunting in October.
The bear hunt is in response to the growing number of bear encounters, particularly in Central Florida. In some areas of the state, populations of black bears — listed as an "imperiled species" just 21 years ago — are judged to have doubled since 2002.
In April 2014, a Longwood woman was attacked by a bear as she walked near Markham Road and Brackenhurst Place in Longwood — four months after another Longwood woman was attacked while walking her dogs in her neighborhood off Markham Woods Road.
In December 2014, a woman walking her dog along Sherbourne Circle in Heathrow was bitten on the arm by a bear.
Earlier this year, a Longwood family says a bear killed their dog behind their home on Glen Ethel Lane.
In the rules proposed by the wildlife agency staff, each hunter would be permitted to bag one bear per hunting season. Florida hunters would pay $100 for a permit, and out-of-state hunters would pay $300.
The FWC said the bear hunt would be limited to 275 bears for the state. When they get to that number, whether it's on the first day of the season or the last, officials would close the hunt.
Supporters of the plan said the hunt will curb the growing bear population. Opponents, however, said learning to live with bears is more important and humane. They also claim the FWC is basing a decision on outdated numbers.
FWC commissioners insist their decision is based on scientific facts that will decrease bear-human conflicts and help manage the population.
The FWC says the most recent statewide estimate of the bear population was done in 2002. New numbers won't be updated until 2016.
Until 2012, the Florida black bear was on a state-designed threatened species list. For almost 40 years, there have been concerns over the future of the species.
Green and Brown areas show where the bears largely inhabit. The areas with the largest number of bear encounters are the East Panhandle and Central Bear Management Units. To take a closer look at bear encounters where you live, head to the FWC website.
Human-bear conflicts in Florida
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said a bear threatening a human is rare.
From 1980 to 2012, only 1 percent of bear encounters involved a bear threatening a human. Most of the encounters involving seeing a bear in the area, in a yard or in a tree (38 percent), or seeing a bear rummaging in the garbage (31 percent).
According to FWC, Lake, Marion, Seminole and Volusia counties make up the majority of the calls regarding black bear sightings. The Ocala National Forest, a major bear habitat, spreads out into most of those counties, although Seminole County isn't included in the Ocala National Forest.
What to do if you encounter a bear
If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.
Do NOT feed or intentionally attract bears. If a bear eats something on your property, take note of what it is and secure it once the bear leaves.
NEVER approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
If you are in your yard:
- Make sure that you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.
- Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or secure area.
- Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
- Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC.
How to keep bears away from your home
- Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container.
- Put household garbage out on morning of pickup rather than the night before.
- Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
- Protect gardens, apiaries, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
- Encourage your homeowners association or local government to institute ordinances on keeping foods that attract wildlife secure.
- Feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding.
- Clean grills and store them in a locked, secure place.
- Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.
- Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground. Bears love fruit!
- Screened enclosures are not secure and will not keep out bears.