TALLAHASSEE — A bear hunt this fall would be broken into three four-day periods, with hunters applying on a first-come, first-served basis for permits that would be specific to dates and areas, under a staff recommendation that will go before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday.
The recommendation to hold the state’s second bear hunt in the past 20 years expands on a proposal from state biologists without offering hard numbers of bears that could be killed or suggesting a number of permits that could be made available or the costs of permits.
Tammy Sapp, a spokeswoman for the commission, said more specifics will be discussed when the commission begins a two-day meeting Wednesday in the Franklin County community of Eastpoint.
The staff recommendation, posted online, is among four proposals that have been put before the commission, including holding a hunt similar to one last October, delaying another hunt until 2017 or prohibiting a hunt for the next several years.
“The staff recommendation is to continue to use hunting to slow the growth of bear populations,” said the recommendation by Diane Eggeman, director of the Division of Hunting and Game Management. “The new hunt format, which would begin in 2016, would be modified to increase precision and accountability.”
Under the staff recommendation, the first hunting period would begin Oct. 21, with the second four-day period starting Oct. 26 and the third Oct. 31.
A hunt last October was planned for up to seven days but was called off after two days as hunters quickly approached the quota of 320 bears.
The overall number of bears targeted this year could be up from last year as the state has increased its estimate of adult black bears to 4,350. For the 2015 hunt, in which 304 bears were killed, the agency estimated there were about 3,500 bears in the state.
Saying the state should focus on non-lethal ways to reduce human-bear interactions, the group Stop The Florida Bear Hunt contends the proposed changes offer little difference from last year’s controversial hunt.
The group has implored members on it Facebook page to voice objections to commission members and plans to hold a series of protest rallies across the state on Saturday.
“The upcoming meeting is most likely a dog and pony show to act like they care what the public thinks,” the group said on Facebook. “There is no way they can enforce any of these rules. It is left up to the trophy hunter using the honor system.”
Kate MacFall, Florida state director for The Humane Society, wants the commission to reject the hunt.
“I think the commissioners will have an open mind, and I hope they will listen to the will of the people of Florida,” MacFall said. “Clearly it’s a very unpopular hunt and just to cater to the will of the trophy hunters doesn’t make sense.”
Last year, the state sold 3,778 permits at a cost of $100 to state residents and $300 for out-of-state residents. The state did not limit the number of permits sold, and hunters were allowed to pick any of the areas of the state open for the hunt, regardless of the number of hunters or bears believed to be in the regions.
The staff recommendation for this year seeks to refine the hunting zones to areas where calls and incidents about human-bear conflicts are more common and would limit the number of hunters allowed in each zone at one time.
“This limited hunt option would allow FWC to hold a more precise bear hunt using the data and information collected including the latest bear population science,” Eggeman wrote in her recommendation.
Gun-rights organizations have urged the commission to increase the number of days from the 2015 hunt as a way to reduce the bear population and the potential for human-bear conflicts.
The staff recommendation would impose additional rules against hunting near game-feeding stations and would prohibit killing bears if other bears, including cubs are nearby. Hunters would also be issued tags that they would be required to place on bears immediately after the kill to enhance enforcement.
Based on a map that will be shown to the commission on Wednesday, hunting could be opened in 32 counties from the Panhandle counties of Bay, Jackson and Washington counties east to the Atlantic Ocean, omitting Nassau and Duval counties.
In Southwest Florida, the hunt would be allowed in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties, according to the map.