Bloody Weekend For Florida Black Bears
Warning: The Images Contained In This Article Are Graphic, Disturbing and May Not Be Suitable For Some Audiences
Last weekend was supposed to be the beginning of a week-long Black Bear hunting season in Florida. Hunting was previously banned due to a dangerously low population of Florida black bears – they were only taken off a federal endangered species watch-list three years ago. However, earlier this year the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) voted to lift the 20 year ban in an effort to “manage the bear population.”
After we helped pack a series of hearings, gathered tens of thousands of petitions and funded a lawsuit opposing this arbitrary and capricious hunt, Floridians and tourists began killing bears as early as 8:00 AM this past Saturday. I arrived at one of the Hunter Check In Stations early that morning as part of a volunteer corps to ensure hunters were complying with the rules, which included a prohibition on using dogs to track bears and using bait to lure them. I thought I would be prepared to observe the carnage as hunters brought in bears to be weighed and measured…but I thought very wrong. You can see my full recap of the weekend by clicking the image below.
The first bear measurement I observed was difficult to witness. He was a male bear and a beautiful example of the species. The hunter hit him three times with a rifle in the chest, shoulder and hide. Rigor mortis had set in, and his tongue was hanging out of the side of his mouth. It took the hunter two hours to drag and load the bear into his truck as he was on the heavier side at 529 pounds. And the FWC inspection process was equally disturbing. After weighing and measuring the bear, FWC officials sawed out a tooth and took hair samples before hoisting the bear back into the hunter’s pick up truck.
The bears really did not have much of a chance. By Friday, over 3,700 hunting permits were sold – which is more than the estimated number of bears in the entire state. To put that number into more perspective, FWC called for a harvest of 320 bears, meaning that for every bear there were over 10 hunters gunning for it. In our court case the FWC assured the judge that hunter success rates would be low, essentially guessing that most hunters would fail to find or kill a bear. Sadly, they were wrong, we were right, and this weekend was a black bear bloodbath.
On the first day alone nearly 300 bears were killed. Worse yet, quotas were exceeded in two of the Bear Management Units (BMUs). Almost three times (112) the approved quota of 40 bears were killed in the East Panhandle BMU, and the Central BMU exceeded its quota of 100 by over 33 percent with 139 taken bears. Even FWC officials admitted that the number of bears killed in the central and northeastern parts of the state were unprecedented with FWC Hunting and Game Director conceding, “We underestimated the hunters success for the first two days in two bear management units.”
Although FWC officials contend that the decimation of bear populations in the two BMUs and statewide will have no effect on the bears overall, it’s unclear what this means, especially for specific regions where bears live. One reason is that an accurate count of the bears has not been completed since 2002, we simply don’t know how many bears there are. Another reason is that it may take weeks for an accurate count of the number of bears killed since hunters have up to 12 hours to register a kill — not to mention that there is no way to account for the number of bears who were killed illegally. It may take years to assess the full effect of this weekend’s hunt on the population of Florida’s black bears.
One of the worst aspects of this weekend was that, as expected, there were numerous reports of hunters killing bears illegally. Some hunted bears without permits, others baited bears or killed cubs. In one case that I observed a bear brought to be inspected that seemed to have been killed before the season began, based on the putrid smell and condition of the carcass. Additionally, due to the poor way in which the hunting rules were written, lactating female bears were killed and there was no effort to enforce the prohibition of killing bears in the presence of cubs. One hunting station even reported the killing of a 75 pound cub – probably only a few weeks old – despite the legal minimum of 100 pounds).
To his credit, FWC Director Nick Wiley kept in touch with me and other activists throughout the weekend, and has assured us that his agency will thoroughly investigate all instances of potential illegal hunting activity – but the damage has more than been done.
On Sunday the total number of bear kills was estimated at 295 with final numbers expected to be released by FWC on Monday. As a result the bear hunt season has been suspended. While FWC claims that the higher than expected kills is proof that the bear population is healthy I think otherwise. What’s certain is that the FWC is not telling us the large number of cubs who have been orphaned as a result of this hunt.
Reports are coming in that as many as one third of bears killed were lactating females. If this is accurate, it means hundreds of cubs could have been left to fend for themselves without food and protection. And if we don’t do something for these cubs, the total number of dead bears will soar even higher. That’s why our next step is to assist with a statewide cub search and rescue process with our friends at Speak Up Wekiva, Center for Biological Diversity and other Florida groups.
To all the members like you who have been a part of this fight since last year thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your support and encouraging messages. Please click here to assist with bear cub rescue and remediation.