By KELLI KENNEDY | Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida wildlife officials closed two regions after the first day of bear hunting after the areas met the limit on the number of bears allowed to be killed during the first statewide hunt in more than 20 years.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission closed the east Panhandle and central Florida region after 99 bears were killed in central Florida and 81 in the Panhandle. That figure was more than double the Panhandle’s limit of 40. Hunters must record each kill within 12 hours at one of 33 stations.
“Bears are still coming into the check station supposedly so the number will be more,” said Laura Bevan, southern regional director of The Humane Society of the United States.
Slightly more than 200 bears were killed around the state in the first day. The agency capped the number of bears that hunters can kill at 320 statewide.
Wildlife officials said in a statement that the number killed on the first day is “well within the allowable range of a conservative hunt.”
More than 3,200 hunters purchased permits to participate, including 1970s rocker Ted Nugent and Liesa Priddy, a rancher and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission member who voted to approve the new hunts.
“The harvest success in the east Panhandle (region), while higher than expectations, is an indicator of the region’s increasing bear population. FWC took a conservative approach to setting harvest objectives, building in buffers so the number of bears harvested will stabilize growing populations while ensuring healthy bear numbers,” the agency said in a statement.
The controversial hunt was approved by the commission earlier this year after much debate. In the end, the members said the black bear population had grown to 3,500, up from a few hundred in the 1970s, and presented a safety problem.
But critics say that number is outdated.
“Yesterday was a horrific day of watching these incredible creatures be slaughtered and in looking in the photos showing up there have been lactating females so that means there are babies that have now been orphaned out there,” said Bevan. “They should have counted those babies as death also.”
Wildlife officials have said the hunt was timed so the youngest cubs are 8 or 9 months, which they say is old enough to survive on their own.
Activists said the state should instead focus on trash management and curbing the smell of food in garbage and staged protests around the state this weekend.
Public records review shows the number of citations issued to Floridians for bear-related offenses has been paltry.
A review of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission records by Orlando radio station WMFE shows that the state agency only issued 10 citations last year for offenses like leaving food or garbage outside that could attract the animals. By comparison, the agency received 6,600 calls about nuisance bears.
Thirty-two other states also allow black bear hunts.
Penalties for violating bear hunting rules range from a $50 fine to $500 and 60 days in prison. Hunters cannot use dogs or bait to lure the bears, and must only kill bears that weigh more than 100 pounds and that don’t have cubs present. Among the weapons allowed: shotguns, bows, pistols, revolvers and crossbows.
Information from: WMFE-FM, http://www.wmfe.org/