Bear hunt halted in Central Florida
FWC: 293 bears killed statewide over weekend
LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said 293 bears were killed statewide over the weekend.
Greg Workman, of FWC, said the department signed an executive order to end the hunt in the Central Florida area and may end the hunt for the rest of the state Sunday is they are close to the 320 number.
Other parts of the state will continued the hunt Sunday, but the quota was reached for the Central Florida area.
FWC said it concluded that harvest objectives were met in two bear management units and via measures in place closed the East Panhandle and the Central BMUs for the rest of the season beginning Sunday.
The North and South BMUs will remained open to hunting Sunday and FWC is monitoring, the department said.
FWC said the four bear management units open to hunting reported the following harvest totals for Saturday:
- East Panhandle BMU = 81 bears – closed to further hunting
- Central Panhandle BMU = 99 bears – closed to further hunting
- North BMU = 12 bears – open for bear hunting Sunday
- South BMU = 15 bears – open for bear hunting Sunday
One after the next, hunters showed up to Lake County's Rock Springs Run State Reserve checking in the bears they shot and killed Saturday.
It's the first time in more than 20 years a bear hunt is allowed in Florida and Bryan Smith, who shot and killed one of the first bears this morning, says it's needed.
"The younger bears, they're docile. I wouldn't want to shoot one. They're great. They're like ghosts and don't bother anyone," said Smith. "Those don't need to be taken. But those big ones, those need to be taken."
Smith shot a 475-pound bear on his private property near Eustis, and says it was a problem for him and his neighbors for years. Before Saturday, there was nothing he could do about it.
"They do a lot of damage on the property," said Smith. "They've gotten into the wildlife. It killed the neighbor's pig and their goat, and it's nice being able to take this one out."
Paul Palmer shot and killed his bear, which weighed 312 pounds, just before 8 a.m. on some private property in Lake County.
He has one of the more than 3,700 permits FWC issued.
"When there's bear signs on the highway and people see as many bears as they're seeing, there's no lack of bears," said Palmer.
When a bear is killed, they're brought to one of the several weigh stations across the state. FWC then checks it and weighs it before giving it back to the person who killed it.
"We feel this is no different than any other hunt where hunters have gone and checked in," said Greg Workman with FWC. "We're then able to collect the data we need."
But the hunt didn't come without controversy.
There have been many protests around the state this week, with a large gathering at Lake Eola on Friday. At the Rock Springs Run weigh station Saturday, only a few folks showed up, but watched with teary eyes.
"The protesters, in my opinion, are the vast minority of the people," said Palmer. "They're not hunters, they live in cities. They probably wouldn't want to go out in the woods."
Hunters were given the chance to kill up to 320 bears throughout the state.
FWC said the harvest success in the East Panhandle BMU, while higher than expectations, is an indicator of the region's increasing bear population.
Check station locations and hours are available here.
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