Groups planning to fight any proposal for another black bear hunt in Florida

Chad Gillis
Fort Myers News-Press

Environmental groups and black bear advocates met Tuesday to discuss ideas on how best to fend off another hunt as state wildlife managers last month said the idea was "on the table."

A few dozen representatives from various groups met through Zoom to talk about the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's most recent meeting, at which several hunters asked for the bear hunt to be reintroduced.

Hunters often ask for a bear hunt at FWC meetings, but commissioners responded during February's gathering, asking the FWC staff when a bear management update presentation was coming so that a bear hunt could be discussed openly.

"The new batch of commissioners has indicated that they are receptive to a hunt," said environmental attorney Chuck O'Neal. "They say a bear hunt is on the table and they’ve asked staff to prepare a presentation for May."

juvenile black bear spent the morning, Tuesday, May 25, 2020 roaming through Fort Myers. Environmental groups are holding meetings to develop ways to combat a potential 2023 hunt.

The group talked about the 2015 hunt and what an eyesore it was for the state of Florida. That hunt was ended by FWC a few days after it started as public outcry mounted.

"We’re moving in the direction of a hunt, just as we were about this same time in 2015," O'Neal said. "So what do we do and how do we deal with this threat that has resurfaced and how do we educate the commissioners?"

The participants said they were concerned that hunting may not be the answer to population control, and that the public doesn't want people hunting and shooting bears.

O'Neal and others said many hunters already knew of the bear they were going to kill during the 2015 hunt, that many of those bears showed up at deer feeders at certain times of the day.

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Wayne Pacelle, former CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said he thinks it would be a good idea to engage with Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, who is perceived as an animal lover.

Many on the call seemed to think DeSantis would avoid major public backlash while potentially running for president.

"It’s really a full-court press at this point," Pacelle said. "We need a legal strategy, a media strategy and I wonder about DeSantis."

Prior to 2015, black bear hunting had not taken place in the Sunshine State since 1994.

Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, seemed optimistic about this round, recalling the year that commissioners decided to stop the hunt.

"This is bringing back a lot of memories, and the biggest memory was the FWC meeting in 2016 where we won," Schwartz said. "They cancelled the hunt."

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