SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) – Florida wildlife officials on Wednesday approved a new bear hunting season in the state just a few years after it was removed from the state’s threatened species list.
After hours of impassioned public comment, mostly in opposition to the new hunting regulations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 5-1 for a limited black bear hunt to help control the growing population.
Florida outlawed all bear hunting in 1994, but a bear rebound and an increase in the number of nuisance calls and bears killed by cars were cited as reasons for allowing a new hunt. The one-week season in fall will be allowed in four areas of the state.
Hunters applauded the decision, but critics like The Humane Society of the United States this week delivered petitions to Gov. Rick Scott bearing signatures of more than 90,000 people trying to stop the hunt of Florida’s largest native land mammal.
Dozens assailed the commission to wait until more is understood about the bear’s actual population numbers, given the state has not finished its official count.
“We will continue to oppose this hunt, not only because it is unjustified, but also because it is likely that cruel and inhumane practices like hounding and baiting will be added in the near future,” said Kate MacFall, the society’s state director.
With the vote, Florida joined 32 other states with black bear populations that allow hunting, and said it will closely monitor its season.