By BRUCE RITCHIE
Representatives of environmental and hunting groups say they agree that now is not the time to talk about resuming hunts for Florida black bears.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Thursday released a draft plan for maintaining black bear populations.
The proposal represents a success story, state officials said.
“We can have people and bears living together,” said Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The draft plan includes removing bears from the state threatened species list. There is no proposal to allow hunting.
The black bear population has grown from about 300 in the 1970s to about 3,000 now.
FWC needs to get the word out to hunters
As bear populations have increased, so have calls to the agency about nuisance bears in neighborhoods. Last year the agency received 4,000 calls about bears.
Some hunters have argued that bear hunting should resume to control bear populations in areas where problems are reported. Bear hunting was allowed in the Apalachicola National Forest and in Baker and Columbia counties until 1994.
Joi Hosker of Glen St. Mary, who is secretary of the Central Florida Bear Hunters Association, said hunters need to know now is not the time to talk about hunting. That may come later when plans are developed for each of seven bear management units that are proposed in the plan.
“I hope the populations (eventually) are so strong they will have hunting,” Hosker said. “At that point they can control how many are being killed, what is being killed.”
Hosker is a member of FWC’s technical advisory group for the proposed black bear management plan.
Threats to bears remain
Laurie Macdonald, Florida director of Defenders of Wildlife, said Thursday she hasn’t read the plan yet. But she agrees that she doesn’t think hunting needs to be addressed.
She told Floridaenvironments.com her group is concerned about the smaller, isolated populations of bears.
The species still faces threats from collisions with cars, loss of habitat and poaching, state wildlife officials said.
“While they are doing much better,” Macdonald said, “there are still great threats to the bear long term.”
Last year, the agency postponed meetings on a proposed black bear plan after public hearings ended with debates about whether to allow hunting. The agency said the delay was needed to refocus discussion on conserving and managing the species.
Wiley said Thursday that the agency will listen to those who want to talk about hunting, but he said that activity still isn’t part of the proposed management plan.
“What’s more important are those issues about highways, travel corridors and habitat,” Wiley said. “Those are much more critical right now … rather than (asking) should we be hunting them or not.”
For more information on the draft plan and upcoming public hearings, go to http://www.myfwc.com/bear .
(Photo and map image provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com .)