Experts Caution Against Bear Hunting in Alachua County

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Even though bear and human encounters remain an unlikely occurrence in Alachua County, people may soon be able to hunt bears in the area.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) met yesterday to review a proposal which would allow black bear hunting in specific areas throughout Florida. In Alachua County, bear hunting would be allowed at Hatchet Creek Wildlife Management Area, Lochloosa Wildlife Management Area and on all private lands.

Under the current plan, bear hunting would be allowed in four out of the seven units that make up Florida, according to Dianne Eggeman, director of the division of hunting and game management for the FWC.

Barr Hammock Preserve is the most recent area where bear-human conflict has occurred in Alachua County. No one was injured in the June incident.
Barr Hammock Preserve is the most recent area where bear-human conflict has occurred in Alachua County. Over the summer a Gainesville resident created a petition urging the Alachua County Commission to close the land to tourists. Nicole Wiesenthal / WUFT

Hunters would be required to have bear permits, which would cost $100 for Florida residents and $300 for nonresidents. Each person would be allowed to bag one bear per season. If the proposal is approved after the final vote in June, bear hunting would be allowed from Oct. 24 to Oct. 30, peak bear season, according to the FWC.

Bear hunting has not been legal in Florida for 20 years. Animal activists, hunters and conservation experts are skeptical about the effect legalizing it again would have on bear encounters and problems in Alachua County.

“I’m opposed to hunting black bears both in Alachua County and in Florida, in part because their numbers are still relatively low,” said Tom Kay, the executive director of Alachua Conservation Trust. “One of the things you’ll hear about black bears is the population’s been exploding, but there’s just been a lot more run-ins with people.”

Kay said the problem is a result of increased land development and human population in critical bear areas.

“There’s too much development going on where bears live, and the bears that are in the problem areas are getting moved to where there were no problems before which creates additional problems,” Kay said. “You also constantly have a new infusion of people who don’t have experience [with black bears].”

Kay said while bear hunting probably wouldn’t affect conservation areas in Alachua County, it could become an issue on private properties. He said instead of bear hunting, the FWC should focus on increased education about proper bear safety, like encouraging the use of bear-proof trashcans.

“There probably could be more public education,” Kay said. “In general, Alachua County has a relatively small population of black bears, which is another reason why it [bear hunting] shouldn’t be happening in Alachua County.”

Butch Ford, manager at Sapps Pawn Gun and Archery, 111 NW 6th St, Gainesville, said he doesn’t think hunting bears in Alachua County would affect the population because it’s so small that hunters may not even be able to find them.

“It’s like fishing in a lake that doesn’t have any fish in it,” Ford said. “Why go fish? I’ve been in Alachua all my life, and I’ve never seen a bear. I’ve hunted, but I’ve never seen a bear in Alachua County.”

According to the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department winter 2014/2015 newsletter, the Florida black bear is considered a threatened species in Alachua County and is ranked imperiled in Florida by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory because of its vulnerability to extinction.

Eggeman said the FWC chose to implement bear hunting because they thought it was the best way to stabilize the population.

“The main purpose is it’s the best tool available to manage the size of the wildlife species,” she said. “They’re abundant, healthy and growing beyond the limit of the habitat. In order to keep them from continuing to grow and grow and grow, we’re implementing hunting.”

The FWC has tried different approaches like imposing regulations to prevent bear feeding, but Bryan Wilson, the central Florida coordinator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said it’s not enough.

“It’s inexcusable given that only three years ago they were a threatened species,” he said. “Hunting bears is not the answer to human conflict.”

Wilson said the FWC should impose stricter rules on bear-proof trash cans. He said, according to the FWC, there was a 95 percent reduction in bear activity in areas where bear-proof trash cans were used.

Bear-proof trash cans, bear-proof dumpsters and bear education are the three critical goals in targeting the bear population problem, Wilson said.

“We believe the efforts spent in arranging bear hunting would be better used in outreach and to educate the leaders of areas on enforcing the bear act,” he said. “We don’t want bears to see human areas as areas of feeding.”

About Nicole Wiesenthal

Nicole is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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