FWC staff will recommend another bear hunt for this year

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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff will recommend another black bear hunt for later this year, according to a memo released Thursday.

The memo, included in agenda material for the next FWC meeting in Eastpoint next Wednesday and Thursday, says “the staff recommendation is to continue to use hunting to slow the growth of bear populations.”

That’s based in part on a new survey showing a robust bear population of 4,350 adult bears.

“The new hunt format, which would begin in 2016, would be modified to increase precision and accountability,” says the memo by Dr. Thomas Eason, director of the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation, and Diane Eggeman, head of the Division of Hunting and Game Management.

Critics said hunters also wound up killing mothers and cubs during the hunt.

“Proposed changes are based on public input, updated bear data, as well as information from the 2015 hunt,” it goes on. “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.

“This option also puts more restrictions on hunters who choose to participate,” the memo says. “New restrictions would include: reducing the area open to hunting to correspond with areas of the state where human-bear conflicts are most prevalent; the prohibition of hunting a bear with any other bear present, including cubs; further restrictions on hunting near game feeding stations; limiting the number of permits; increased enforcement measures requiring hunters to tag bears immediately; and limiting the number of hunters in each area of the state, or Bear Management Unit.”

Also included in the meeting materials is a conclusion by a panel of bear management experts that “regulated hunting is an effective tool that is widely used to manage, conserve, and sustain black bear populations.”

“We unanimously concur that hunting is an appropriate response to address human-bear conflicts in Florida,” it says.

Last October, hunters killed 298 Florida black bears when the FWC commissioner OK’d a bear hunt for the first time in two decades.

More than 3,200 hunters bought permits to hunt, including “Motor City Madman” musician Ted Nugent and state Rep. Frank Artiles.

The hunt ended prematurely, however, when kills approached the preset quota in just the first two days of the hunt. The limit had been 320 over the course of a week.

Anti-hunt activists included one Florida woman who paid for a small plane trailing a “No Bear Hunt!” banner to buzz the Capitol last year.

Gov. Rick Scott, other elected officials and political candidates were speaking at The Associated Press’ yearly pre-legislative session conference held on the building’s 22nd-story observation deck.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.