A black bear on a residential street in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2014. Photo: Rafael C. Torres / Reuters

By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
10 October 2015

MIAMI (The New York Times) – Amid the alligators, oversize iguanas, pythons and giant snails that habitually seize the spotlight in Florida, there stands a more mundane but no less iconic creature that roams the state: the Florida black bear.

The bears, or those who represent their interests, recently got their day in court as lawyers fought over whether Florida should allow them to be hunted for the first time in 21 years. The bears lost.

A Tallahassee judge ruled this month that the hunt could begin as scheduled on Oct. 24, rejecting a request by opponents for a temporary halt until their lawsuit over the issue is resolved. Opponents, led by Speak Up Wekiva, a conservation group, filed an appeal on Thursday.

Supporters of the hunt cite four serious attacks by bears in the suburbs of central Florida and the panhandle over the past year. But in a state that has its fair share of hunters, the bear hunt has angered a broad portion of Floridians, including environmentalists and even some hunters, who call it premature and an ineffective way to deal with the nuisance that some bears pose in the suburbs.

Just as worrisome for opponents is that Florida will not complete the latest survey of its once-dwindling bear population until next year. The hunt is capped at 320 bears, but in court on Thursday, opponents said that number was arbitrary and not based on definitive data. State officials said the bear population was healthy enough to warrant a limited hunt.

Only three years ago, the state still listed the Florida black bear as threatened. The bear — which was headed for extinction in the 1970s, when only 300 or so remained — is a subspecies of black bears from other parts of the United States and now exists only in Florida.

“This adds to the angst, the public angst,” said Chuck O’Neal, a Florida environmental activist and real estate investor who is part of a coalition suing the state over the hunt. “At most, there are 3,500 of these in the entire state of 19 million people, and to say that 3,500 are too much, well, there are states that have 30,000 black bears. There is no reason that with such a small population here, we can’t coexist with these bears.”

Of the 41 states with bear populations, 31 allow hunts. Florida would be the 32nd. [more]

Florida’s Bears Go From Brink of Extinction to Rifles’ Crosshairs

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