Florida officials: No black bear hunt until at least 2019

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Florida officials: No black bear hunt until at least 2019

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- pointing to the state's conservation efforts -- announced that the Florida black bear didn't warrant being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as requested by a number of groups and individuals, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Stop The Florida Bear Hunt.

It will be 2019 before Florida holds another bear hunt. It was the first bear hunting season in Florida in 21 years. And those steps will likely include hunting.

ARFF believes the appointment of a photographer, birder, or wildlife advocate would add an important perspective to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"We have all of the science, everything we need to make that decision. Because there is a breaking point to where a healthy population can begin to deteriorate to some extent just because of the numbers it would seem", Roberts said.

"The hunt is a relatively small part of our bear program", Eason said. In addition, the agency said, the bears have somewhat rebounded from their drastically low numbers in the 1970s, when they were estimated to number about 300, to a population estimated to number over 4,000 today. The bill, which was introduced by Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, also would commission a study to be conducted on the effectiveness of non-lethal means for the management of bears. "It's just how big is that swing and how detrimental is a big swing like that versus managed mortality through a harvest", Eason said. Wiley says 70 percent of Floridians support regulated hunting, but bear hunting is viewed differently. "We feel like if we had more time to work and flesh-out and get on the ground with people, we could gain a lot more support for bear hunting down the road", Wiley said. Commissioners voted to send the commission back to the drawing board to rework the state's bear management plan. He said he could see no downside to putting the hunt on hold for at least two years. It's expected to be completed in two years.

Hunters, many wearing orange shirts or caps, accused wildlife commissioners of ignoring their own scientists and caving in to anti-hunting opinion.

The measure protects the food sources and habitats of bears. Some experts raised concerns about the impact of a provision that would block prescribed burns in February on certain state lands where bears tend to hibernate.

Wiley said the state "learned a lesson" from the 2015 hunt, which was the first in more than two decades.

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