A bill proposed today in the Florida Legislature would allow the killing of bears in self-defense.
House Bill 87, proposed by Representative Jason Shoaf, faces an uphill battle as it passes through the legislature. Under the bill, people can kill bears without authorization or permits if the person feels threatened. However, a person cannot lure a bear or provoke an attack and must contact the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission within 24 hours so they can dispose of the remains. The person also may not “possess, sell, or dispose of the taken bear or its parts.”
“Since hunting season for bears was closed statewide more than 30 years ago, the state’s bear population has grown 10-fold.” said Representative Shoaf, “Our law enforcement officers have made clear that bears are increasingly a threat to Florida families, and this legislation will enable Floridians to defend themselves without fear of penalty.”
In 1974, the Florida Black Bear was added to the State Threatened Species but was removed in 2012. Today, about 4,050 bears roam Florida with many sub-populations recovering, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Physical contact between a person and a black bear is rare in Florida with only 37 documented incidents since 2006 (excluding vehicle strikes).
According to Dr. Lynn Rogers, leading researcher of black bears and founder of the Wildlife Research Institute, bears are timid and rarely attack people. “I have seen bluff charges, I’ve seen lunges, slapping the ground and blowing, looking ferocious. After a while, I realized none of them were following through. They were just expressions of their own anxieties.”
In more than fifty years of working with bears, Rogers has never been attacked but believes aggressive black bears, while rare, should be killed to prevent the trait from passing through generations.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggests not running from bears as they can run up to 35 miles per hour and climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds. Instead, they suggest standing upright and speaking to the bear in a calm voice.
Rep. Shoaf has previously written similar bills, HB 1487 and HB 1587, entitled “Self-Defense Act.” However, according to the Florida House of Representatives, both died in the Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee in 2022 and 2023.
The bill would take effect July 1, 2024, if passed.
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