Monday, October 11, 2010

State nixes bear workshops because of hunting controversy

State wildlife officials on Monday postponed workshops on black bear management because they said too many people wanted to talk about hunting bears. But it was a state wildlife official who publicly suggested that hunting should remain an option in the future.

The state banned bear hunting in 1994 because of an outcry from animal rights activists, environmentalists and news media that reported on bears being shot in trees where they fled from dogs during legal hunts.

Bears face continuing threats from development and are being killed on roads in increasing numbers while they occupy only 18 percent of their historic range in Florida, according to a draft management report. Still, some residents have raised concerns about there being too many of bears roaming through some rural residential areas and eating from trash cans.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it had intended for a series workshops across the state to focus on the draft plan to ensure "a sustainable and socially acceptable" bear population, according to an agency statement released Monday. Instead, the agency said much of the media attention and comments at the first three workshops has been on the topic of reintroducing bear hunting.

"Although there is significant interest from a wide range of perspectives, each of the workshops ended in debates on hunting rather than on discussions of the plan itself,” said Tim Breault, director of the commission's Division of Habitat and Species Conservation.

David Telesco, Florida's bear management coordinator, told WTSP News that hunting should remain an option in the future for controlling the population. Thirty-one of the 40 states with black bear populations allow hunting, according to the draft report.

Jen Hobgood, the Florida director of the Humane Society of the United States, disagreed in the WTSP report with allowing hunting as a method of controlling interaction with bears and people.

The agency on Monday issued a statement saying it was not proposing to allow hunting because wider stakeholder involvement would be needed to explore that option.

Agency staff will determine how they can bring the focus of the discussion back to the management plan and will hold workshops when senior leadership can attend, Breault said. The agency canceled public meetings scheduled for Tuesday in Naples and Oct. 19 in Perry.

To learn more about the draft report, got to

(Black bear photo courtesy of FWC. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

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