By MIKE SCHNEIDER | Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s wildlife management commission on Monday started selling permits for bear hunting for the first time in two decades, despite a legal challenge to the hunt.
The permits for the hunt during the last week in October cost $100 for Florida residents and $300 for nonresidents, and they can be purchased online, in tax collector offices or in some sporting goods stores, said Diane Eggeman, director of the state’s Division of Hunting and Game Management.
Officials with the division’s parent agency, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, say the goal of the hunt is to help manage the state’s bear population.
But an advocacy group last week filed a lawsuit in Tallahassee, challenging the hunt. The lawsuit filed by Speak Up Wekiva claimed the hunt violates an amendment to the Florida constitution that requires the state to protect its natural resources.
Eggeman said that the commission hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit and that there were no contingency plans for refunds should a judge rule against the hunt.
The decision to allow bear hunting “is from sound reasoning and careful consideration to the issues involved,” Eggeman said. “We’re confident that the actions will prevail.”
Florida outlawed all bear hunting in 1994. But a bear rebound, as well as an increase in the number of nuisance calls and bears killed by cars, were cited as reasons for allowing a new one-week hunt.
Hunters would be limited to one bear per person, and the killing of cubs or bears under 100 pounds would be prohibited, according to the commission’s guidelines.
Hunters would be required to register the bear at an FWC checkpoint within 12 hours of killing the animal, and there would be a limit of less than 300 bears killed.
The state’s bear population currently stands at around 3,000.