Permits to hunt black bears in Florida went on sale Monday morning for the first time in more than 21 years, despite a lawsuit being filed in Tallahassee trying to put a halt to the hunt.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in June approved the week-long hunt with a 6–1 vote. The hunt takes place Oct. 24–30, but it might not last a full seven days if the bear harvest goal is met.
Permits to participate in the week-long black bear hunt officially went on sale Monday and will be available to purchase until Oct. 23.
The permits will be available to purchase at licensed vendors, like Walmart, DICK's Sporting Goods or Sports Authority. Permits may also be purchased at local tax collector's offices or online at www.gooutdoorsflorida.com.
The special-use permits will cost $100 for Florida residents and $300 for out-of-state residents.
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Source: Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
In encounter after encounter, black bears are making themselves at home in very suburban settings, posing a threat to residents and their pets. In Seminole County alone, there were three violent bear encounters last year.
But a Central Florida group called Speak Up Wekiva says a bear hunt is not the answer.
"We want the commission to stop selling the permits until they have real population numbers in at the end of this year, so we have a better idea if the science supports the hunt," said Christopher Byrd, the attorney representing Speak Up Wekiva, which has filed suit in Tallahassee in an attempt to put a stop to the October hunt.
State officials said they have sound science behind their decision to allow the limited hunt which they feel will not only help control the population, but also decrease human–bear encounters.
Robert Harper, a hunter, said when it comes to bears, education — not bullets — is needed.
"It should be more education done in this, because the bears were living here already," Harper said. "I'm not against hunting if it is done correctly and safely. But we are going to have people out there trying to poach, and we are going to see people catch a bear on their property, and they are going to want to pull out the 12-gauge and try to shoot it."
Fish and Widlife officials estimate there are about 1,300 bears in the Central Region. Hunters will likely be allowed to harvest about 100 during the upcoming season.
The harvesting limit will be one bear per person per season.
Wildlife officials said they won't limit the number of permits sold, but there will be a harvest quota, which will limit the number of bears that can be harvested during the season.
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.
The bear hunt will take place in four of the seven Bear Management Units throughout the state.
Central Florida is included in the Central Region. Osceola Ocounty, however, is included in another region where hunting is not permitted.
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, go 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.