Brevard county commissioners divided on bear hunting ban
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – There aren't all that many Florida black bears in Brevard County. But that didn't prevent county commissioners from debating whether to come out against the state sanctioning a black bear hunt in the state this fall, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
A two-day hunt last October — for which 3,778 bear hunting permits were sold to "harvest" up to 320 bears — resulted in the killing of 304 black bears statewide, including two in Brevard County. Previously, a statewide ban on bear hunting had been in place since 1994. The black bear was listed as a "threatened" species until 2012.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is scheduled to meet June 22 to consider approving another bear hunt.
According to our news partners at Florida Today, county commissioners voted 3-2 against passing a non-binding resolution proposed by Palm Bay resident Joan Davis asking FWC to reinstate a ban on bear hunting in Florida.
County Commission Vice Chair Curt Smith and Commissioner Trudie Infantini supported the resolution opposing the hunt. Commission Chair Jim Barfield and Commissioners Andy Anderson and Robin Fisher voted against the measure, but said they could reconsider after they have a chance to examine more scientific data on the issue.
Davis and four other Central Florida residents presented their case to county commissioners,
Oviedo resident Katrina Shadix said bear encounters with humans are the result of the human population encroaching on bears' habitat, and that the bears shouldn't be punished for this.
While Shadix said she comes from a family of hunters and "I fully support hunting" in general, she is opposed to "trophy killing."
"There are no logical environmental or scientific reasons to conduct another hunt," Shadix said. "A hunt is not the answer. The bears that live in the forest are not bothering anyone."
Davis said black bears "are in peril and need our protection." She favored "practical, non-lethal solutions" like bear-proof garbage cans in areas where bears roam.
Davis said the governing boards in four other counties and 13 cities in Florida have approved resolutions opposing a black bear hunt.
But Shannon Wright, regional director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told county commissioners that "the only feasible and effective means for slowing population growth is regulated hunting. Without that, the bear population will continue to grow, high numbers will be killed on the highways, and conflict between people and bears will continue to increase. We had to come up with something to address the issue."
Wright said FWC estimates that there are 4,350 adult bears in the state, and an average of 240 bears a year are killed in accidents involving motor vehicles. She also cited several incidents of what she described as "bear attacks" in recent years in Seminole County and the Florida Panhandle region.
She said the black bear hunt is "one of the most difficult and controversial wildlife management challenges in Florida today," adding that the FWC is "committed to assuring black bear population continues to thrive" in Florida.
Wright asked county commissioners to delay their vote so they could get a more extensive briefing from FWC on the issue.
"Let us partner and work together," Wright said.
But Orlando resident Megan Sorbo said: "The majority of Floridians don't want our bears to be killed. Bears have already lost over 80 percent of their habitat, and have done nothing to deserve being killed."
Because county commissioners do not meet during June, Infantini and Smith wanted to move forward with the vote, in advance of a potential June 22 vote by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on the issue.
The other county commissioners, however, voted to oppose the non-binding resolution.
"I'm not ready to vote on this till I get more data," Anderson said. "We just don't know what we're voting on, so we'll wait. I'm a hunter, and I get real nervous passing laws opposing hunts. Once you start going down one road on one hunt, next time, it will be on the deer."
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