Florida Black Bear General Hunting FAQs
Florida does not have an open regulated bear hunting season at this time. The first regulated bear hunting season started in 1936 in Florida, and continued in parts of the state until 1994. A limited bear hunting season was re-opened in four areas in October 2015, but has remained closed since that time. In December 2019, FWC Commissioners approved an updated Florida Black Bear Management Plan, which included a new section outlining population management options, including regulated hunting. At that time, the FWC Commissioners indicated hunting was a valid tool and could be re-opened in the future.
The updated 2019 Bear Management Plan is a comprehensive, science-based approach to managing the Florida black bear. While regulated hunting as a population management tool is discussed in the Plan, it is the FWC Commissioners who decide whether to re-open the bear hunting season. No decision on population management options was made by the FWC Commissioners when they approved the updated Plan in December 2019.
The best scientifically valid population estimates indicate approximately 4,050 bears statewide.
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. In 2012, 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 illegal to sell bear parts or injure or kill a bear, with certain exceptions (bear hunt, depredation permit) and that FWC will continue to comment on land use changes affecting bears.
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 neighborhoods.
2015 Florida Black Bear Hunt FAQs
FWC had mechanisms in place for daily monitoring of the harvest and season closure, so when the harvest approached the statewide objective of 320, FWC was prepared and stopped the hunt.
The East Panhandle and the Central Bear Management Units (BMUs) were closed for the rest of the season beginning Sunday, Oct. 25 while the North and South BMUs were closed to hunting beginning Monday, Oct. 26.
The total harvest for the four Bear Managements Units (BMUs) open during the 2015 bear hunt was 304. The breakdown by BMU is as follows:
- East Panhandle BMU = 114 bears
- Central BMU = 143 bears
- North BMU = 25 bears
- South BMU = 22 bears
While the number of bears harvested during the first two days was higher than expected in the East Panhandle and Central Bear Management Units (BMUs), success rates were comparable to other states with similar hunt structures (e.g., 10.7% of hunters who attempted to harvest a bear were successful in the East Panhandle BMU). There are many factors that can influence how quickly harvest objectives are achieved, such as weather conditions, time of year, and availability of natural food sources. One factor unique in this situation was that the bear population had not been hunted in over a decade. One of the reasons why the harvest occurred more quickly than expected in the East Panhandle BMU is because the population at the time of the hunt was significantly higher than the 2002 population estimate of 600 bears in this BMU.
Florida black bear populations have increased greatly over recent decades. Based on rigorous scientific updates, Florida black bears number about 4,050 statewide.
FWC took a conservative approach to setting harvest objectives, building in buffers so the number of bears harvested would stabilize growing populations. Buffers were built in to ensure a continuation of healthy bear numbers. Based on population estimates, adult survival, growth rates, and scientific literature, FWC determined at least 20% total annual mortality would be needed for the bear population to begin to stabilize. Total mortality is derived from all known bear deaths, which includes vehicle collisions and agency removals for conflict behavior. The remaining balance that would be required to achieve at least 20% of the total population was used to set the harvest objectives. This information was specific to each Bear Management Unit (BMU).
Updated population information for three additional BMUs became available in 2016. In addition to updated population information for three additional BMUs (East Panhandle, West Panhandle and South), FWC also will use information from the 2015 hunt to guide management efforts in future years.
Bear permits were available from Aug. 3 to Oct. 23, 2015 and during that period 3,778 were sold. Bear permit sales totaled more than $376,900 and were allocated by the Florida Legislature during Fiscal Year 2016 – 2017 as BearWise funding to share the cost of bear-resistant equipment with local governments to reduce human-bear conflicts.
Bears of either sex were allowed to be taken, however the bear must have weighed at least 100 pounds live weight and cubs must not be present at the time of harvest. Female bears with cubs could have been harvested legally if the cubs were not observed at the time of harvest.
The timing of this hunt was selected in part because cubs would be old enough (8 to 9 months old) to survive on their own. A peer-reviewed scientific study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management showed that cubs 5 1/2 months and older can survive on their own at similar rates as cubs with females.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers investigated criminal violations ranging from underweight bears and taking or attempting to take bears by baiting. In addition, FWC officers addressed a few out-of-season harvests and hunters without permits. Overall, compliance with hunting regulations was high.
The purpose of a limited bear hunt was to stabilize Florida’s large, resilient and growing bear populations, as one part of FWC’s overall approach to managing bears. The FWC has a comprehensive set of options to ensure the bear populations continues to remain healthy and balanced with the human population, and a limited bear hunting season in four of the state’s seven bear management units was part of that process.
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, 33 of them conduct hunts and all have stable to increasing bear populations. Until the 2015 hunt, Florida was the only state with an estimated bear population of over 600 bears that did not have a bear hunt. 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.
The hunt is just one 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’s bear hunt was carefully regulated. FWC rules required that every harvested bear be removed from the field and checked at an FWC-staffed check station. The bear harvest was limited through daily decisions regarding season closure, based on daily harvest totals.
Permitted hunters needed 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. Hunters learned about BMU closures by calling a hotline number, checking the FWC’s web and social media sites, and the FWC sent emails and texts to hunters who provided those contacts.