Stop the Bear Hunt?

By Stephen M. Vantassel
December 4, 2015

In June of 2015, the Florida Fish and Game Commission approved the hunting of black bears. The hunt took place in late October. Stop the Bear Hunt, an anti-bear hunting protest industry group, provides 4 reasons why the Florida bear hunt is a bad idea. Let’s take a look at each one and see if the Commission’s decision was misguided.

Argument 1. The hunt is unnecessary and unwarranted. Stop the Bear Hunt claims that bear numbers have not reached habitat carrying capacity and that killing bears is not expected to resolve human-bear conflicts. In fact, they claim that managing trash better will resolve 95% of the conflicts humans have with bears.

Response.

Unfortunately, these protesters don’t quite understand that hunting is not just about population control or wildlife damage management. Hunting is about resource use. In other words, hunting bears is an entirely appropriate activity whether bears are damaging property or not. As long as the population can handle the reduction in numbers due to hunting, then hunting should be allowed.

The carrying capacity argument is cute but fails to recognize that most species in the U.S. are not at biological carrying capacity. Wildlife isn’t managed from the perspective on how many animals the land will sustain, wildlife is managed for how much wildlife the public will tolerate (known as sociological carrying capacity).

Argument 2. The hunt is driven by politics, not science. They protesters claims that hunting was barely mentioned in the state’s bear management plan and that the decision to allow hunting was made by commissioners whose expertise and interests were not scientific.

Response

This is an interesting argument. Animal protectionists groups normally don’t want science to dictate decisions because the science usually shows that the species can handle the harvest pressure. So it is great that this animal protectionist group wants “science” to be adjudicating policy decisions.

As for whether or not the Commissioners were scientists or not, kind of misses the point of their function. Their role is to balance public needs/wishes with the requirement to protect species from over harvest. Wildlife management is ultimately a political decision, so their being non-scientists is really nothing new.

Argument 3. A truly conservative approach would wait until after 2016.

The activists begrudgingly admit that the wildlife agency’s hunt was very restrained. It lasted only a week, and prohibited hunting with free-range dogs and bait. They even admitted that the hunt would likely not meet the quota. (in fact the hunt didn’t meet the quota established by the agency. Nevertheless, the animal protectionist group claims the state should have delayed the hunt for a future time to be sure they knew exactly how many bears there are in Florida.

Response

They cite Dr. Stephen F. Stringham’s claim that bear numbers may actually be crashing in Florida. Certainly sounds ominous, but when you read how the state biologists estimated bear numbers, it seems that the agency was responsible. Capture mark recapture is a tried and true method of estimating wildlife populations. Are the numbers exact? Heavens No. But they never are. If agencies had to wait for precise numbers then they would never make a decision. But then again, maybe that is what the animal protectionist groups are going for.

The fact that the hunt didn’t meet the quota of harvesting 20% of the population shows that the state actually did a pretty good job balancing the uncertainty of wildlife management with the data.

Argument 4. Innocent animals will experience great suffering and cruel deaths.

The animal activists claim that it can take as many as 6 shots at point blank range (defined as muzzle to fur) to kill a bear. In addition, some of the female bears may be pregnant so hunting is essentially a form of abortion on demand, which snuffs the life from these innocent bears.

Response

I am a bit taken aback by the claim that a bear can handle six shots at point blank range before dying. It seems to me that the person doing the shooting should point the muzzle at the brain or heart rather than the foot, as six shots seems a bit excessive at close range. Unfortunately, the activists don’t provide any evidence for this six-shot claim and as someone who has some familiarity with killing animals, I find the claim ludicrous.

Animal protectionists and the general public need to understand that the bears aren’t being killed because they are guilty. This sort of legal language in the animal protectionist industry is quite interesting because it assumes that the only justifiable reason to kill an animal is if it has committed a crime. I would point out that hunting of bears is responsible whether the bears are guilty of anything or not. Bears are an important resource that should be utilized because they are part of the wonderful abundance God has given creation for humanity to use.

In the final analysis, the bear hunt went quite well. The state agency earned over $377,600.00 selling bear hunting permits. That is a nice chunk of change that will help fund future conservation activities and that is good for the environment, people, and the bears.

Featured Image Courtesy of USFWS Midwest/flickrCC

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor of theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity. He specializes in environmental ethics. His book, Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009) explains why an animal rights perspective on animals fails to be environmentally responsible.


Originally published at www.cornwallalliance.org on December 4, 2015.