On June 22, 2016, the seven-member Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (“FWC”) voted to postpone bear hunting in Florida for 2016. The FWC made its decision in a split 4-3 vote, despite receiving recommendations from its staff and biologists to conduct a bear hunt similar to the one held in 2015.

Nick Wiley, executive director of FWC, stated that:

[a]lthough hunting has been demonstrated to be a valuable tool to control bear populations across the country, it is just one part of FWC’s latest, comprehensive bear management program.”

Last year, a total of 304 bears were killed in a two-day span, which caused an abrupt end to the planned week-long hunt in October.

Southwest Florida Local Government Takes the Hunt into its Own Hands

On April 18, 2016, the Cape Coral City Council voted 4-3 to adopt Resolution No. 54-16, which urged the FWC to reinstate the ban on hunting black bears.

The Resolution, despite not having the same legal implications as an enacted ordinance, also encouraged the FWC to focus on removing bear conflicts in inhabited areas by utilizing deterrents such as reducing palmetto berry and providing “bear-proof garbage cans.”

FWC’s Bear Management Plans for the Future

Over the next year, the FWC will implement an $825,000 investment to encourage local communities to reduce human-bear conflict and it has plans to work with stakeholders, local communities and the public to better develop the important role hunting plays in Florida’s comprehensive bear management program.

Thus far, FWC’s comprehensive Black Bear Management Program has yielded agency responses to more than 21,000 calls regarding bears, led to more than 700 site visits, and provided outreach and educational information for nearly 50,000 people.

In lieu of the authorizing another hunt, the FWC plans to continue protecting Florida’s 185,000 acres of statewide bear habitat from a legal perspective by working with the Legislature to enhance penalties for illegally feeding bears and advocating for local governments to adopt Bear Wise ordinances.

So What’s the Legal Scoop?

As explained by Thomas Eason, director of the Commission’s habitat and species conservation division, Florida’s bear population has made tremendous strides since the 1970’s, when the black bear was placed on the list of threatened species and only 300 to 500 existed throughout the state. As an illustration of the agency’s conservation success story, the state’s largest land mammals have since been removed from the threatened species list in 2012 and recent projections indicate that approximately 4,350 bears exist today.

While the seven-member FWC has decided not to authorize bear hunting for 2016, the Commission could consider bear hunting in 2017 or after. As always, for the latest updates and answers to your questions on Environmental and Land Use Law impacting Southwest Florida, please feel free to contact me at austin.turner@henlaw.com.

 

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bayne under Flickr Creative Commons License