Published since 1946
Florida Management Success Leads to First Black Bear Hunt in Decades
The first legal black bear hunt in Florida was held in October, the culmination of a long-term effort to restore the species in the state and to develop a scientifically credible management plan for the charismatic species. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) led a process that carefully evaluated the population status of black bears and integrated a long stakeholder engagement process before implementing the management plan. The process used serves as a valuable model for successful use of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.
The Florida bear hunt was a monumental accomplishment given population declines in the 1970s and early 80s, when black bears required listing as a state threatened species. As a result of this protection, they soon began a strong recovery and in 2002 FWCC biologists estimated the population at approximately 3,000 bears. While this scientific data provided sufficient confidence to justify their removal from the state threatened list, FWCC chose not to reclassify bears at that time in order to study the population further.
FWCC then began a multi-year scientific evaluation of the bear population which led to the subsequent comprehensive bear management plan for the state. This plan was based on science but also was thoroughly vetted with partners and stakeholders. In 2010, the FWCC adopted a much-improved imperiled listing process that is held up as an exceptional model at the national level. Black bears were the first species subjected to this intensified review process, which included scientific peer review from bear experts outside the FWCC. In 2012, in light of strong data and a robust management plan, bears were removed from the state threatened list.
While human-bear conflicts often drive the development of control methods, which includes regulated hunting, Florida's bear season was driven primarily by their comprehensive management plan, which always included hunting as a viable option. This plan and the science behind it was used to develop bear management units and to set responsible harvest objectives. Indicators such as bear damage complaints, vehicle collisions and citizen sightings supported the use of regulated hunting by demonstrating that bear numbers were continuing to increase in many areas.
The proposal to hunt bears in Florida came before the FWCC in spring 2015. While subject to highly charged debate from both sides, the initiative passed easily, a reflection of the Commission's trust in agency biologists, administrators and procedures. A quota of 320 bears was set with the season commencing in October 2015. In the first day alone, two of the four bear management units were closed by FWCC when they reached or exceeded their quotas. By day two, a total of 295 bears were harvested throughout designated management units across the state and the remaining two units were closed. In a continued show of conservatism, the FWCC decided that the harvest of 295 bears was close enough to the quota of 320 and closed the season statewide.
The ability of an agency like FWCC to carefully study, recover and manage a species like black bear in the third most human populated state in the nation and the resulting adversarial backlash by a public not familiar with proven wildlife management techniques cannot be understated. In a time where too often the safe route is the one chosen by agencies, FWCC used the best science, worked with their stakeholders and effectively demonstrated how the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation works. The inaugural Florida bear season was an unprecedented success and should be held up as a responsible approach for all fish and wildlife agencies when dealing with the hunting of charismatic species. (jwg)