Protesters stood in front of the Ocala office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission on Monday to protest a proposal to legalize bear hunting in the state.
The protests were organized by Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.
“We think that the FWC is premature in opening a bear hunting season,” said Bryan Wilson, Central Florida Coordinator for ARFF. “Given that the bears were just D-listed three years ago and their own studies have shown the bear population has not rebounded rapidly, really a hunt right now is premature and ill-advised.”
The Florida Black Bear was removed from the state’s threatened species list in 2012.
The group held signs and banners that read “Stop The War On Wildlife” and “Tell FWC No Bear Hunt!”
The animal rights group fears the number of bears is still not at the level it needs to be, despite the fact that numbers are rising.
“The sustainable population that exists in the wild for bears has been established as much higher that the current population,” Wilson said.
“This is not a population control issue. It really is an unnecessary trophy hunt.”
A statement released by Nick Wiley, Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions, refutes this claim.
“There is a misconception circulating that suggests the reinstated bear hunt would be nothing more than a ‘trophy’ hunt,” Wiley stated in the release. “The primary purpose of a limited bear harvest is to mange the bear population while providing carefully regulated hunting opportunities, and the proposed hunt has been aligned accordingly.”
The FWC commissioners see a growing bear population and a diminishing number of methods to try and control them.
“It’s really to the point where the bear population is in the state of Florida that relocating bears is not the best option anymore, we’re running out of spaces to put bears,” said Greg Workman, FWC Public Information Coordinator for the Northeast region
FWC did say that the proposed hunt was not a direct response to recent bear attacks or increasing human-bear conflicts, nor would a hunt be the solution to these conflicts. They cite the most effective measure for minimizing human-bear conflicts is effective management of garbage and food attractants.
Similar protests occurred simultaneously at four other FWC offices around the state in West Palm Beach, Lakeland, Lake City and Panama City.
FWC is expected to vote Wednesday on legalizing bear hunting during a meeting in Sarasota.
If approved, it will be the first time bear hunting will be legal in 20 years.