Black Day For Black Bears In Florida

Black Day For Black Bears In Florida

Yesterday in Tallahassee, Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds III ruled in favor of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC), dismissing the argument that their rules associated with lifting the 20 year ban on hunting Florida Black Bears are arbitrary and capricious. The ruling clears the way for a week long hunt to commence at 8:00 AM October 24th . Despite a valiant effort by our attorney Ralf Brookes and our friends Speak Up Wakiva, the judge concluded that he did not have the legal standing to stop the hunt. Although he said the state wildlife commission could have shown better timing and science, the judge did not rule in our favor.

At this time, over 2,000 hunting permits have been sold to kill 320 black bears. And permits will keep being sold until October 22. It is anticipated that 4,000 permits could be granted, since some hunters were probably awaiting the outcome of the lawsuit before purchasing their permit. But it’s the guidelines surrounding the hunt, not the volume of permits, that have the potential to create a bear blitzkrieg.

For instance, Mr. Brooks pointed out that while every hunter is only allowed to kill one bear, there are no age restrictions on who can purchase a permit nor any mechanism to determine if a bear was killed by a specific hunter. This means a hunter could purchase a permit in the name of his/her five year old child and claim that their children were the ones who killed the bear. Or if a family of four show up to register four dead bears, there would be no way to dispute that the parent(s) actually killed all four.

Equally troubling is that FWC’s rules would not stop the hunt during the first two days, even if the 320 “harvest” limit is reached. Even the judge questioned this part of the FWC plan, asking how they plan to stay in touch with hunters deep in the woods, where cellular service is not exactly at a premium.

In theory, FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley has the authority to suspend the hunt at any time. But the first two days of the hunt are during a weekend, and even if Mr. Wiley decided to suspend the hunt he would still need to correspond with other FWC Commissioners prior to doing so.

In 23 days the killing officially begins. But there are still ways to get involved and stunt the hunt. Some of our friends in Florida are making plan to monitor key hunting grounds every day during the bear hunt on public and private lands – stay tuned for information on how you can get involved and support these “safe bear hunt monitors”. Their work is unfortunately necessary due to reports that some hunters  are bragging on social media about plans to kill bears illegally, or fail to report their kills as required under the weak FWC rules.

And while we’d like to believe FWC’s claim that all hunters are “responsible and honest”, the simple fact remains that their weak rules and reporting make it all too easy for unscrupulous hunters to game the system and kill more bears. Even to determine how many bears are killed may be a challenge, since we’ll only really know about those kills reported at a registered FWC check station, some of which are as 30 miles away from designated hunting areas.

That’s an ironic but unhelpful mirror to the fact that FWC still does not even know the accurate population of black bears. The last population counts were taken in 2002, a fact that Judge Reynolds at one point mocked the FWC attorneys on, saying “Pull your population estimate together! That’s your scientific basis.”

While this is indeed  a black day for the black bears, I am so thankful to the many of you who stood up and continue to stand for the bears. Because of you, we were able to contribute $8,000 to the legal team who fought to stop the hunt – and raised some valuable and legally important points at yesterday’s hearing. And there’s much more we can do to challenge the rules of the hunt.  Thank you so much for all of your efforts, your words of encouragement and your steadfast commitment to standing with the critters.