By Amber Crooks
Senior Natural Resource Specialist, Conservancy of Southwest Florida
On behalf of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and our more than 6,500 supporting families, we hope the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will abandon its black bear hunting proposal.
Given the overwhelming public concern, lack of support for the FWC proposal, missing scientific information, and potential for long-lasting effects to the bear population, we believe the most appropriate decision is to focus resources on remedies that can truly reduce human-bear conflicts.
At its last meeting, FWC acknowledged that scientific studies have not shown that hunting reduces conflicts. Rather, trash management is the most effective way of curbing human-bear interaction.
Given this data, FWC can be a leader in preventing conflicts by recommending the denial of developments in environmentally-sensitive lands, requiring “Bear Wise” practices for new development permits, and creating a statewide ordinance to help local communities manage trash and other attractants.
The Conservancy remains committed to assisting in these efforts.
At its upcoming June 24 meeting, the FWC may decide to allow up to 20% of the bear population to be hunted without an updated population estimate.
Scientific studies are being conducted right now, to be complete by fall 2016, are expected to provide essential information to ensure that the proposed hunt won’t imperil the bear in any of its subpopulations.
Until we have this data, allowing a hunt is not appropriate.
In the last few months, FWC has sought to completely overhaul its management of black bears — and not for the better.
Only three years ago, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida was testifying before the FWC, asking for bears to be retained on the protected species list. Our concerns that the bear population may not be secure enough to warrant removal of imperiled species protections were shared by several notable scientists. Some bear populations are doing well, other isolated bear populations are in dire straits.
Indeed, since the bear has been delisted from the protected list, the bear population in the Glades County area has been reduced from a bare minimum sustainable number of 200, to only about 75 bears.
As it stands, this population is at extreme risk for local extinction.
Simultaneously, FWC recently implemented a new and aggressive approach of euthanizing “conflict bears” (a.k.a. “One Strike Rule”).
As a result, already in 2015, 50 bears have been euthanized. If bear hunting is approved it will be conducted without a full understanding of how the one-strike rule is impacting bear population.
Additionally, bear populations in Lee and Collier County are facing habitat reduction from rampant development and increasing threats from negative human-bear conflicts including the continued record-high number of bears killed on our roadways.
Given this information, the Conservancy has asked to collaborate with the FWC to focus their efforts to address two major threats to bears:
- The continued loss and fragmentation of habitat.
- The related conflicts that come from unmanaged trash and other food attractants, like pet food, bird feeders and others.
Instead, the agency has moved quickly on a hunt proposal that won’t address human-bear conflicts, and may actually threaten the bear population in certain areas of the state.
Southwest Florida has a lot to lose with the FWC’s pending decision on bear management, as we have one of the state’s most imperiled subpopulations, and also just to the south of that, the area where a majority of the bears may be taken in the hunt.
Rushing toward a hunt is leading FWC astray from the real task at hand. With FWC at the helm, working as the conservation agency it is entrusted by the public to be, we can and should, focus on meaningful measures toward habitat protection, citizen education, and conflict management, not bear hunting.