PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Florida is not planning another black bear hunt any time soon. But they're not taking the option off the table to manage bears either.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved an updated bear management plan at its meeting Wednesday in Panama City. 

The new plan shows the Florida black bear population has grown to an estimated 4,050 bears, a 50 percent increase in population from 2002. 

The seven subpopulations of bears have also grown. In some cases, the subpopulations are so large that bears can potentially interact with other subpopulations. That's good for genetic diversity, important in growing a healthy species, FWC says.

Scientists think the bear population, under current practices, could reach 11,000 by 2026.

The goals of the plan include:

  • Keeping Florida's bear population above 3,000 adult bears
  • Make sure at least 1 bear subpopulation stays above 1,000 adult bears (three currently do)
  • Increase the number of bears in subpopulations that have less than 200
  • Increase genetic exchange among subpopulations

To do that, FWC listed several management options, offering no preference on one option over another.

Those options include translocation (moving bears from one subpopulation to another), habitat preservation, continuing the BearWise program and educating the public on bears.

Regulated hunting is also included in the bear management plan. FWC officials say they were not currently advocating another bear hunt like the one held in Florida in 2015.

The bear hunt caused an outcry, and Floridians remain divided specifically on hunting bears, although Floridians overall support hunting, according to a survey conducted by FWC and included in the plan.

About 75 percent of speakers at Wednesday's meeting opposed another bear hunt. FWC commissioners approved the bear management plan without setting a date for another hunt.


However, scientists stressed that the rates of growth among both bears and humans may lead to the need to "manage" the bear population in the future.