Florida — Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said they will have to make some adjustments before the next bear hunt.
This past weekend, Florida had its first bear hunt in 21 years, and it had to be shut down early because FWC underestimated the success of the hunt.
According to officials, 3,778 bear-hunt permits were issued and the quota was for 320 bears.
Officials ended the hunt Sunday night with after 298 bears were reported to have been killed.
Tammy Sapp, Communications Manager with the Division of Hunting and Game Management said, “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.” She added, “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 open during the 2015 bear hunt was 298. The breakdown by Bear Management Unit is as follows:
- East Panhandle BMU = 112 bears
- Central BMU = 139 bears
- North BMU = 25 bears
- South BMU = 22 bears
According to FWC, while harvest was higher than expected in the East Panhandle and Central BMUs, success rates were comparable to other states with similar hunt structures and were within sustainable limits. The higher-than-expected harvest in the East Panhandle likely reflects a higher bear population in that unit and indicates that the population is significantly higher than the East Panhandle’s 2002 population estimate of 600 bears.
However, the hunt did not come without problems.
The FWC law enforcement division continues to investigate cases concerning violations that occurred during the recent bear hunt.
At least one of those cases under investigation concerns a hunter taking or attempting to take a bear by baiting it in the Central BMU.
One individual in the Central BMU was cited for taking or attempting to take a bear by baiting it.
During the bear hunt, one criminal citation was issued in the Northwest Panhandle BMU for killing a cub bear that weighed 42 pounds. Another hunter in the Central BMU was issued a warning for taking an 88 pound bear. In addition, FWC officers addressed hunters without permits and are investigating any out-of-season harvests. Overall, FWC says that hunter ethics and compliance during the bear hunt were high.
Many have turned to social media to express their outrage after hunters were allegedly heard bragging that the bears killed did not attempt to run.
Experts said the bears did not run because they are not used to being prey.
FWC Public Information Officer Greg Workman said that they are also aware of a Facebook post written by a man who claims that an FWC officer returned an undersized bear to a hunter after he was cited.
Thomas Ninesevenx Allison wrote, “This underweight bear (91.8pounds – 5 lbs for the net) was killed by the man driving this vehicle… with this license number. The bear was then confiscated by this FWC LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, whose name is Mike Fletcher. Officer Fletcher then drove up the road and had the hunter who illegally killed the bear follow him. I got curious and drove after them and found the FWC LAW ENFORCEMENT officer on the side of the road returning the bear to the hunter who illegally shot it.”
Allison also posted several photos of the underweight bear.
Workman said, “This particular issue has come up numerous times in the past few days. I can assure you the hunter did not have the bear returned to him. The officers merely drove down the road so they could perform their duty of writing up the appropriate paperwork on the hunter. The bear wasn’t given back, but confiscated.”
Officials said that the person who posted the information has also encouraged people to share it. Officials warn that the information is completely false and nothing more than propaganda in an attempt to halt future bear hunts.