The Alachua County Commission voiced its opposition Tuesday to another bear hunt in the county, voting 4-1 against a hunt for the second year in a row.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will vote on June 22 in Apalachicola, deciding whether to authorize another statewide bear hunt. But board members said Tuesday they did not have enough scientific evidence to justify a bear hunt in Alachua County. They suggested instead looking into alternatives to killing bears and taking a closer look at growth management.
County Commissioner Mike Byerly said during the meeting the reasoning behind the decision was public safety. Byerly told Chris Wynn, the FWC regional director, the department needed to make a stronger argument for the hunt.
“There needs to be more reason for this — this, as it stands, is ethically wrong,” he said. “This year the argument is safety for human beings, and personally I don’t think you’ve made a good case.”
Byerly argued that the hunt for safety from bears is a moot point, as there isn’t any supporting data saying that people are in danger. The state may be creating a larger problem by allowing large hunts that can be dangerous, he said.
The hunt is not primarily for human safety, Wynn said, but rather to control the bear population. The state’s bear population has increased 60 percent since 2002, and in 2015 cars hit and killed more than 200 bears.
In the past, the FWC would tag and relocate bears up to three times before having to euthanize them for interfering with humans. Because of the population spike, and the tax-burden that comes with increased relocation, the state now automatically euthanizes a bear found in urban settings, Wynn said.
“We’re having to euthanize more bears,” he said. “Which, once again, we don’t want to do.”
County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, the lone dissent in Tuesday’s vote, said that the issue isn’t just about the growing bear population, but the growing human population as well. As development increases in the county, the bears’ habitat decreases. Bears are then forced to move into areas populated with humans to survive.
“As bears increase, they have less space to do what bears do, and they need to do that even if they need to go elsewhere,” he said.
The large hunt is not a trophy hunt, Wynn said. Hunters who are authorized for the bear hunt must eat the meat from the bear they kill. When the FWC euthanizes a bear, they use chemicals which renders the meat inedible.
County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said a major problem with the bear hunts is that they do not target bears that have made their homes in urban settings and causing problems. Instead, the bears that are killed are where they are supposed to be — in the deep woods.
“If you want to hunt the problem bears, you need to stake out behind the McDonald’s and shoot that one, and not the one deep in the Appalachia forest,” he said. “We’re not tackling the problem bears, those remain in suburbia.”
In Alachua County, bears are not really much of an issue, Wynn said. The FWC will continue to respect the county’s decision to not have bear hunts, he said, but urged the commission not to eliminate the option just in case bears are a problem in the future.
“What you’re saying is you’d rather have cars instead of hunters control the population,” he said.