Protecting our bears

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, its supporters and its partners, were successful in advocating for science-based policy decisions and protecting Florida’s black bears with yesterday’s 4–3 decision by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to not conduct a bear hunt this year.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida had opposed the hunt, both by sending comment letters and by personally attending the Commission meeting in the panhandle to provide public comment. Our opposition was rooted in that there still is insufficient science to support a hunt at this time, and it distracts limited agency time and resources from the proven method of reducing bear/human conflict: trash management.

June 22 FWC meeting in Eastpoint, Florida

The FWC had indicated that the 20% harvest threshold was based on studies by Drs. Bunnell & Tait, of the University of British Columbia. The Conservancy reached out to Dr. Bunnell, and he stated using his study in this way “should make you nervous about an assumption of a 20% sustainable harvest.”

He pointed out the broad modeling assumptions regarding birth rate and other factors are not applicable to wild Florida bears, saying “meeting the assumptions to warrant a 20% annual loss would be uncommon, if not completely improbable.” He also raised other concerns that could contribute to overharvestation.

Many of these same questions and concerns were raised by other scientists, including three independent Florida biologists; reinforcing what we had raised in previous Conservancy comment letters to the agency. The Conservancy does not believe a hunt should be conducted until there has been a study to determine the food and habitat availability in each of the subpopulation areas, to determine their biological carrying capacity. This is consistent with the Black Bear Management Plan that indicates the agency needs to conduct an analysis of occupied and potential bear habitat, which should be done prior to any hunt proposal.

Additionally, the agency needs to put more resources towards trash management and public education. It’s the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As Executive Director Wiley stated in a recent press release, “the FWC has openly and repeatedly acknowledged that we are not certain how much bear hunting may help minimize conflicts.” FWC has acknowledged that the “most effective measure for minimizing human-bear conflicts is… management of garbage and food attractants.” Bottom line, trash management is the most effective way to prevent conflict, protect public safety and reduce the euthanization of bears.

This moratorium is critical in order to study several factors essential to make a science-based policy decision on whether further hunting is sustainable, as well as to put agency resources towards more effective solutions for protecting both people and bears.

We would like to thank all of our supporters who took action with our e-action alert to contact the FWC Commissioners regarding their thoughts on the bear hunt. Your voice was heard and together, we have promoted better protection of Florida’s black bears.