On October 24th, a profit-driven massacre of the Florida black bear is scheduled to begin, an event which hasn’t occurred for 21 years due to their formerly threatened status. In 1994, the Florida State Legislature outlawed hunting of this genetically unique subspecies of bear, but the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), a pro-hunting organization (their Facebook page is HuntFlorida), delisted them in 2012.
The FWC has declared open season on the bears once again with a no-limit policy during the first 48 hours of the 7-day hunt, supposedly to “manage” the bear population and ensure “public safety.” In fact, only 14 human-bear conflicts have resulted in human injuries within the last 8 years, most of which were the result of intentional feeding or harassment. On the flip side, the FWC has euthanized more than 60 so-called “nuisance” bears in the last 8 months alone.
A “nuisance” or “problem” bear is a bear that is unlucky enough to stray into areas of urban development in search of food. However, the areas where the bears will be hunted down and killed are all wilderness areas far from human development. Hunting bears in their habitat will not solve the problem of “nuisance” bears, a fact that the FWC has conveniently overlooked. The use of bear-proof trash cans, the practice of taking in bird feeders and pet foods, not feeding wildlife, and in general, education of humans will fix the problem of so-called “nuisance” bears.
The Florida black bear was led to the brink of extinction with only about 300 individuals remaining in 1974. This was caused by the encroachment of humans into their habitat as well as by persecution. It is estimated that 82% of the bear’s former habitat has been confiscated and destroyed by humans. Clearly, it is not the bears that are in need of population management.
We quite frankly do not know how many bears there are since the census has not been completed and the FWC is relying on incomplete scientific data. Current estimates fall at around 2,500-3,000 bears, but an accurate count has not been done since 2002 and the next one will not be completed until 2016. So we have over 2,100 hunters pointing weapons at 3,000 bears and no way to regulate the number of bears killed by each person. With no reliable reporting mechanism, who will ensure the one bear per hunter rule is followed?
The idea of the hunt is to “cull” the population by 320 bears but with no real oversight, we could easily see the decimation of our rebounded bear population. Already, many bears are killed on Florida roadways with well over 100 on average lost each year. But apparently that isn’t enough suffering inflicted by the hands of humans. After all, plenty of bloodthirsty sadists, minions of the FWC, are lining up every day for the chance to create a Hell on earth for a shy, reclusive sentient being that is merely struggling to survive and find a place to eke out a living within their dwindling forest lands.
Think about it: 320 bears slaughtered on their own land, many of them with cubs hiding in the brush or the trees looking on as their mothers are ruthlessly murdered. Killing one mother can easily mean the death of at least three individuals…a mom who is shot plus her two cubs who will subsequently starve to death, not to mention any of their future offspring. The death of one has repercussions for many.
In 1960, the human population in Florida was about 5 million and is currently almost 20 million. By 2060, this number is expected to increase to 36 million. The Florida black bear, once able to roam the entire state of Florida and into southern Georgia and Alabama, is now confined to isolated pockets of seven “Bear Management Units” (BMU) as defined by the FWC. Hunting will be allowed in four of these zones.
Bears suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation, increasing their mortality rates while undermining genetic variability. Annual home ranges for female bears are based on the availability of food and adequate cover and could be as much as 34 square miles. The ranges for males, which are three to eight times as large and overlap those of females, depend on the availability and presence of adult females.
Human encroachment of their lands has already isolated these bear populations as genetic diversity is diminished, which hinders their ability to adapt to changes in their environment and leads to inbreeding depression. More and more land is stolen from the bears every year. It seems that the bears are not the problem. In the eyes of hunters and other would-be killers, bears have rebounded but the fact is they still stand on the edge of a precipice thanks to the greed and soaring population of humans, the real invasive species.
It is very interesting that the FWC sold 3,200 permits last year alone to harvest the most important food source for the bears, saw palmetto berries. While belonging to the Order Carnivora, about 80% of the bear’s diet consists of plant material, with the majority of their protein coming from insects. The FWC has been selling these permits for years, taking their major food source and anticipating the natural outcome of their actions. The FWC suspended the selling of these permits less than a month after declaring the war on bears.
This harvest of the saw palmettos lined the pockets of the FWC but, more importantly, destroyed a critical food source making it nearly impossible to avoid coming out of the woods and into residential areas in search of an easy and reliable source of food. This is reminiscent of the actions of early U.S. settlers who executed a planned extermination of the primary source of food and clothing of the native people, their very lifeline, the American bison. The strategies may be different, but the intent and outcome are basically the same. Genocide is genocide, whether inter- or intraspecific.
Over 2,100 hunting permits have been sold since they went on sale August 3rd at $100 apiece for Florida residents and $300 for non-residents There has been no ceiling placed on the number of permits that will be sold up until the eve of the hunt, but this planned decimation of the Florida bear population is so far turning into quite the FWC fundraiser, between about $32,000 for harvesting the bear’s food supply last year alone plus over $215,000 for permits to kill…and counting.
Despite overwhelming public opposition (over 75% of the public is against it), the FWC and Gov. Rick Scott approved the hunt, but not before going through the motions of soliciting public input in Sarasota. Clearly, there exists a conflict-of-interest. Included in this nefarious bunch of FWC commissioners is cattle ranch owner Liesa Priddy, an avid hunter who was reportedly one of the first to purchase a permit to kill one of these magnificent bears. Also included in her agenda is lifting protections of the Florida panther.
Through the clouds of corruption and greed in Florida, a light of compassion shines through. A group called Speak Up Wekiva along with Chuck O’Neal have filed a lawsuit against the FWC stating that the hunt is unconstitutional and immoral and that the FWC dismissed the will of the majority of Floridians. The FWC is filled with political appointees whose agenda does not include preserving state wildlife but rather expanding hunting opportunities within the state of Florida (again, I point to the FWC’s Facebook page, HuntFlorida). Killing bears in the woods will not prevent human-bear conflicts, they rightly argued…and with that the FWC seems to have changed its stance from public safety to population control almost overnight. Nick Wiley, the FWC’s Executive Director, stated that the purpose of the hunt is to “manage” the bear population.
The emergency hearing to stop the hunt is scheduled for October 1st at 1:30 pm at the Leon County Circuit Courthouse in Tallahassee and many local, state, and national organizations have since formed a coalition to help stop the hunt. Included in this group are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Hero Kids, Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, CompassionWorks International, Environmental Action, Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, Lobby for Animals, South Florida Wildlands, and Stop the Florida Bear Hunt.
It remains to be seen whether compassion will win out over avarice, coexistence and appreciation for nature over unbridled human expansion and anthropocentrism. Will the Florida black bear, a state icon, important umbrella species and embodiment of wild Florida be brought back from near-extinction only to be hunted to near-extinction once again in favor of the cruel, unnecessary, violent sport of trophy hunting?
How you can help:
Stop The Florida Bear Hunt is organizing statewide to fight for the bear. http://stopflbearhunt.com/collections/all
Speak Up Wekiva’s lawsuit to stop the Florida bear hunt http://www.gofundme.com/6y6k5vm8
http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/21/masters-of-the-hunt-floridas-black-bear-and-the-conquest-of-nature/ or http://www.dailykumquat.com/florida-bear-hunt-fwc-habitat-loss-overpopulation-development/