Dramatic increase in conflicts led to bear hunting proposal, FWC chairman says

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Florida is the only state with more than 600 black bears that doesn’t allow bear hunting, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff said in opening remarks during a commission meeting on Wednesday in Tallahassee.

And 32 of the nation’s 41 states with black bears allow hunting, said Diane Eggeman, director of FWC’s Division of Hunting & Game Management.

After a 20-year hunting ban, Florida is considering allowing bear hunting in response to nuisance bear complaints and attacks during the past two years.

Several central Florida legislators wrote to the commission in 2014 asking for hunting to resume after attacks in the Lake Mary area. The commission is meeting through Thursday at Florida A&M University.

“Unprecedented forms of conflict … including attacks on our fellow citizens of Florida, have dramatically increased,” Commission Chairman Richard A. “Dick” Corbett said.

And Corbett, who said he expects lengthy public comments and discussion on the issue Wednesday, added that his agency cannot solve the problem alone.

“We need to have everyone together involved,” he said. “This will frankly be the only way we can accomplish conservation and management in the new era.”

Groups including Sierra Club Florida, the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity are against the proposed rule change to allow hunting. They say hunting won’t resolve conflicts between bears and people.

“With less room to roam, it is no wonder there’s been an increase in bear sightings and interactions,” Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “It should be obvious – the problem is people, so our solutions should start with people.”

The meeting at Florida A&M University’s Alfred Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center is being broadcast on The Florida Channel.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.