FAQs: Florida black bears and hunting

Is it legal to hunt black bears in Florida?

No. It is illegal to hunt bears in Florida, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is not proposing a bear hunting season. However, FWC has a bear management plan that lists hunting as one of several options that could be considered as a management tool in the future.

 Was it ever legal to hunt bears in Florida?

Yes, but in 1971 bear hunting was closed in most areas of the state; exceptions were Baker and Columbia counties and the Apalachicola National Forest. In 1993, biologists presented a report to the then Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission on managing black bears in Florida. This report recommended that bear hunting seasons be closed statewide. This recommendation was based on several factors, including a survey that indicated the public could not understand how hunting a threatened species could be allowed. In addition, the survey reported 60.2 percent of respondents were opposed to a bear hunt. In 1994, bear hunting in all areas of the state ended.

What is the bear population in Florida?

The best scientifically valid population estimates total 2,500 to 3,000 bears statewide.

 Is the Florida black bear considered a threatened species?

The Florida black bear is not a State-designated Threatened Species.  The Florida black bear had been listed as a State-designated Threatened species from 1974 to 2012.  Successful conservation of the Florida black bear was confirmed by the FWC’s 2011 Biological Status Review, which reported the bear was no longer at a high risk of extinction.  The Commission approved a Florida Black Bear Management Plan and two rule changes to confirm the removal of the bear from the list of State-designated Threatened Species.  The bear was removed from the rule designating State Threatened Species (F.A.C. 68A-27.003) and a new rule was enacted (F.A.C. 68A-4.009) that maintains it is still illegal to injure or kill a bear, possess or sell bear parts, and that FWC will continue to comment on land use changes.  The rule changes were enacted on August 23, 2012.

Under the Bear Management Plan, will the hunting of bears be allowed?

The plan does not propose a bear hunt. The plan acknowledges bear hunting is a complex issue and needs to incorporate a wider array of stakeholder involvement if hunting is to be considered as part of Florida’s bear management program. At the February 2015 Commission meeting, staff was directed to bring a conceptual framework of a Florida bear hunt to the Commissioners at the April 2015 Commission meeting.

 Wouldn’t hunting bears end human-bear conflicts?

No. Hunting is used to attain wildlife population objectives, such as slowing population growth rates, rather than to resolve conflict issues. Hunting is one of many tools that can be used in concert with others to meet bear management objectives.  Hunting can relieve pressure on bear populations in certain areas, which could reduce the amount of bears in suburban and urban areas.  However, all states that allow bear hunting also have human-bear conflicts. Whenever bears and people live near each other, conflicts are possible as bears seek out human food sources like garbage, bird seed and pet food. The most successful way to reduce human-bear conflicts is to secure items that attract bears into neighbors.

 What would it take to hunt bears?

The question of whether to hunt Florida black bears is being carefully considered from various perspectives including stakeholders, the public and elected officials. One of the factors that will be important in those discussions is to know the current bear population. The FWC’s most recent statewide population estimate is from 2002. We are currently updating our population estimates in phases. We anticipate all analyses will be complete as early as the summer of 2016. In addition to population information, the FWC would consider how hunting might affect the population objectives for the particular area proposed for hunting. While most areas in Florida have adequate numbers of bears, others are below the plan's population objectives and so would not be considered for hunting. FWC would also need to evaluate the social dimensions of this issue, by considering input from the local community where hunting may be considered, as well from a statewide public-policy perspective before making a final decision.


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