Information About the 2015 Bear Hunt in Florida

Background

Florida black bear populations have increased greatly over recent decades, from an estimated low of 300 to 500 bears in the 1970s to at least 3,500 bears today based on rigorous scientific updates.

This tremendous growth in black bear populations means we must employ a range of management tools including a limited bear hunting season in four of the state’s seven bear management units (BMUs). The purpose of reinstating a limited bear hunt is to stabilize growing bear populations, as one part of FWC’s overall approach to managing bears. Across the U.S., managing wildlife populations between sustainable minimum and acceptable maximum levels is part of the legally mandated conservation responsibility of state wildlife agencies.

Even though all available information suggests strong growth of bear populations in these four hunted BMUs, the FWC has taken a conservative approach to developing harvest objectives by using data from scientific surveys done in 2002 and 2014.

Florida’s bear hunt will be carefully regulated. FWC rules require that every harvested bear must be removed from the field and checked at an FWC-staffed check station. The bear harvest will be limited through daily decisions regarding season closure, based on daily harvest totals. Experience in other states with a hunt structure similar to Florida’s indicates that hunter success is relatively low. The day-to-day monitoring and ability to close the season in any BMU when the harvest objective is reached will help ensure the harvest is sustainable.

Regulated hunting has a long successful history of contributing to conservation in North America. It is a scientifically supported fact that bear hunting is biologically sustainable and the most effective tool for maintaining proper balance of bear populations relative to available habitat. Of the 41 states with resident bear populations, 32 of them have populations over 600 bears and conduct hunts. Many of these states have had bear hunting for decades, and every state with a bear hunt has stable to increasing bear populations.

The hunt is one important component of FWC’s overall bear management strategy, and FWC will continue to invest much staff time and resources in efforts such as outreach and education, waste management, and removing bears that pose a threat to human safety.

Florida black bears represent a great conservation success story. The next chapter in conservation is to manage sustainable bear populations in balance with people.

Bear Hunt Information

Purpose of the Hunt

The purpose of the hunt is to stabilize growing bear populations. Bear hunting is one of several integrated actions aimed at managing and conserving bears in Florida. While hunting alone is not likely to significantly reduce current human-bear conflicts in urban and suburban areas, it is a proven measure for managing bear populations. Due to a bear’s large range, hunting can remove some individual bears that may be causing conflicts with people. Additionally, hunting can relieve pressure of increasing and expanding bear populations in certain areas, helping to reduce the number of new bears entering suburban and urban areas

Where the Hunt Is Occurring

Hunting is allowed on all private land with landowner permission and some public land in the counties that make up the 4 bear management units (BMUs) that are open to bear hunting:

  • East Panhandle BMU – Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla, and Washington counties.
  • North BMU – Baker, Columbia, Duval, Hamilton, Nassau, Suwannee, and Union counties.
  • Central BMU – Alachua, Bradford, Brevard, Clay, Flagler, Lake, Marion, Orange, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia counties.
  • South BMU -Broward, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties.

Hunt Dates

In 2015, the season runs from Saturday, Oct. 24 to Friday, Oct. 30, though the season may end earlier in any given bear management unit (BMU) if the harvest objective is reached. Permitted hunters need to verify with the FWC after each day of the hunt, beginning Oct. 24, whether the harvest objective (number of bears taken by hunters) in any of the BMUs has been met. If the harvest objective is met in any given BMU, the bear season in that BMU will close.

Beginning on Oct. 24, updated information on BMU closures will be made available each day during the season around 9 p.m. Eastern time. Hunters can learn of these possible BMU closures after 9 p.m. by:

  • Calling the Bear Hunting Hotline toll free at 844-FWC-BEAR (844-392-2327)
  • Checking MyFWC.com/Hunting
  • Following social media sites:
    • Facebook.com/HGM.FWC
    • Twitter.com/HuntFloridaFWC

Also, an email will be sent to those who have provided the FWC with an email address, and texts will be sent to those who have provided a cell phone number, regarding any season closures to a BMU.
While one BMU may close, others may remain open. As long as the harvest objective has not been met in a BMU, the hunt in that BMU will continue through Oct. 30.

How BMU Harvest Objectives Were Determined

Each bear management unit (BMU) has a harvest objective, which is the number of bears that need to be removed each year to stabilize the population. The harvest objective number is based on removing 20 percent of the estimated bear population, taking into consideration the average number of bears that are killed by vehicles or by FWC management actions due to conflict behavior. Because of annual variation in those numbers, the FWC used an average of the last 3 years for both vehicle strikes and conflict-related removals to estimate the non-hunting mortality for 2015. The harvest objective for the South BMU was reduced to take into account that the Big Cypress National Preserve (i.e., Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area) would not be open for bear hunting in 2015.

BMU (Year of Population Estimate) Population Estimate 20% of Population Estimate Known Mortality (Avg.) Harvest Objective
East Panhandle (2002) 600 120 80 40
North (2014) 550 110 10 100
Central (2014) 1,300 260 160 100
South (2002) 700 140 20 80*

*Objective adjusted due to Big Cypress not hunted in 2015

How the Harvest Objective Will Be Managed

Bear harvest will be limited through daily decisions regarding season closure, based on daily harvest totals. Hunters are required to check harvested bears at check stations within 12 hours of recovery, and FWC will monitor daily harvest in each bear management unit (BMU). When the harvest objective for a given BMU is reached, the season will be closed in that unit. The most common, time-tested and universally successful tools used by professional wildlife biologists for managing wild game harvest include regulating season length and bag limit. The FWC has very conservative rules in place for both of these mechanisms (short season, 1-bear bag limit). In addition, the FWC has put in place the ability to close the season on a daily basis in any given BMU that reaches its harvest objective. That extra measure of control is unique in Florida to black bear hunting. With these rules in place, the hunt structure will ensure that the harvest is sustainable.

How the Hunt Will Be Conducted

Florida’s bear hunt will be carefully regulated. In addition day-to-day monitoring and the requirement to close the season in any bear management unit (BMU) when the harvest objective is reached, there are other safeguards in place to ensure a limited, conservative hunt.

Bag Limit

The bag limit is one bear per person per season. Bears must weigh at least 100 pounds to be harvested. A bear with cub(s) present may not be harvested.

Methods

Dogs cannot be used for hunting. Dogs on leashes may be used for trailing shot bears.

Baiting is not allowed. On public land, no feeding of game is allowed. On private land, the hunter and the bear must be more than 100 yards from a game feeding station when feed is present. Game feeding stations on private land may not contain processed foods other than commercial deer or hog feed in any of the 4 bear management units (BMUs) open to bear hunting.

Hunters may pursue bears with bows and crossbows, muzzleloading guns, rifles, pistols, revolvers and shotguns. Restrictions on archery equipment and firearms for bear hunting are the same as those for deer hunting.

Check Station Requirements

Whether taken on private or public land, hunters must check their bear within 12 hours of recovering it at any of the established bear check stations. Official bear check stations are located so they are approximately 30 miles from most hunter locations within the four bear management units (BMU) that are open to hunting.

Check station operators will be collecting information about harvested bears such as weight, sex, size, age and DNA. In addition, a bear tag will be affixed to the harvested bear’s hide. Hunters will be asked to complete a survey. Data collected from the 2015 hunt will help inform any recommendations for changes in future years.

Other Regulations Governing the Hunt

Regulations dictate no wasting of any game that has been wounded or killed by a person while hunting. Waste means to intentionally fail to make a reasonable effort to retrieve a wounded or killed animal and render it for consumption or use. Most hunters make every effort to use the meat for the table just as they do with harvested deer or wild turkey. In fact, the value of wild game as the original organic food is becoming more popular. The sale (includes trade, barter and exchange) or purchase of bear meat or parts is prohibited.

 

Hunters’ Role in Wildlife Conservation

Hunters have been the strongest advocates of wildlife restoration and efforts to manage sustainable wildlife populations since the beginning of the hunter-led conservation movement in the 19th Century. Hunters take pride in safe, legal, responsible, fair-chase hunting. Hunters are guided by a hierarchy of ethics, which include obeying all applicable laws and regulations, attaining and maintaining the skills necessary to take game as quickly and humanely as possible, and exercising a personal code of behavior that reflects favorably on the abilities and sensibilities of hunters.

Throughout American history, hunters also have been first and foremost when it comes to supporting and funding wildlife conservation and restoration. Many species of game and non-game wildlife and their habitats have been recovered and are thriving now, thanks to the strong support and leadership from hunters.

Bear Permit Information

License and Permit Requirements

Hunters need a hunting license (unless exempt) and a bear permit ($100 for residents; $300 for nonresidents). Everyone who is interested in hunting bears must obtain the bear permit including those exempt from hunting license requirements (e.g., youth, seniors, people with disabilities).

Those hunting on a wildlife management area (WMA), also will need a management area permit (but it is not required on Apalachicola River WEA and Tyndall Air Force Base). And depending on the WMA and when the taking of bear is allowed, hunters may also need a quota permit, and/or an archery or muzzleloading gun season permit.

Bear permits went on sale Aug. 3 and sales will stop at 11:59 p.pm on Oct. 23, 2015.

Bear permit sales will be used to help fund bear conservation efforts in Florida.

Hunter Safety Course Requirements

Hunters 16 years of age and older must have completed a state certified Hunter Safety course before they can buy a hunting license (and bear permit) that allows them to hunt by themselves.

Hunters born before June 1, 1975, are exempt from this Hunter Safety requirement. Hunters who opt to purchase their hunting license (and bear permit) using the mentoring exemption must hunt with a supervisor 21 years of age or older who meets the Hunter Safety requirements.

Hunter safety courses training program provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to be a safe and responsible hunter.

Educational Opportunities

FWC has also provided opportunities for hunters to learn about the regulations governing the bear hunt including at MyFWC.com/BearHunting, the 2015 Guide to Bear Hunting in Florida Adobe PDF, informational videos External Website, and a webinar External Website.



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