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Nancy Smith

Why I Favor the Bear Hunt

June 18, 2016 - 12:15am

You might as well know up front, I am 100 percent behind the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recommendation to allow a bear hunt this fall.

Let me tell you why.

It's because I'm a conservationist, not a preservationist.

It's because managing animal populations isn't new. It's because I've done this before -- had this homework assignment more times as a Florida journalist than I can count. Some species or another has been dying out or coming back ever since I arrived in Florida in 1977, and I keep writing about it.

And you know what? Every single time, FWC -- sometimes with the help of a federal partner -- has done its job, from bald eagles to panthers to alligators.

(I'm not saying if the FWC told me the sky is green and not blue, I'd believe them -- but I'd probably think about it.)

Black bears, Florida's largest mammals, are already a case in point.

Fewer than 300 bears roamed Florida in the early 1970s, down from the 11,000 thought to have been there when Spanish explorers arrived at the end of the 15th century. In 1974, the state listed black bears as a threatened species in the state. Twenty years later, hunting was completely halted. In many states bears still haven't recovered. But Florida is a different story.

The population rebounded amazingly well, and bears were removed from special state protection in 2012. Now wildlife officials say more than 4,000 black bears inhabit the state’s forests and swamps. Early last year, on a narrow vote of the FWC, a hunting season was approved to manage the population.

I hear people ask all the time, why do we have to hunt and kill bears to save them? Why don't we just get out of the way and let them sort their own numbers out?

The answer is, because bears don't do that.

A story in National Geographic last year told us that between 1990 and 2014, there were 49,000 total bear incidents across the state. "Incidents" aren't warm and fuzzy happenings, by the way. They include encounters with people at close range. 

The average number of run-ins over the last three years was four times greater than it was a decade earlier. On top of that, there’s been a handful of maulings. The trend is only expected to continue.

Nick Wiley, executive director of FWC, told me this week that collisions with vehicles account for about 200 bear deaths in Florida every year, plus many "conflict bears" have been removed after getting into trash, causing property damage, or menacing/mauling people.

"We're not like some of the rural states," Wiley said. "Florida has few places to relocate these conflict bears. And relocation often doesn't work anyway."

One study suggests that almost 70 percent of relocated bears leave the area where they were released and half of all relocated bears return to the very kind of behavior that caused them to be moved. Wildlife officials have euthanized many problem bears.

Before you ask -- no, I'm not a hunter, in fact never hunted in my life, never owned a gun and I don't belong to the National Rifle Association. But I've lived in Florida since 1977, long enough to watch authorities struggle maintaining a balance between a growing human population and shrinking animal habitat.

The truth is, too many Floridians resent the FWC because of its close connection to hunters. They have it in their heads the commission is bought and paid for by the NRA. 

For its story National Geographic reached out to half a dozen Florida bear hunters, but none wanted to comment on the record. One said he was concerned he would be harassed by anti-hunting activists if his identity was revealed.

There's no getting around the facts. Hunter conservationists underwrite and support politically a large part of wildlife conservation in Florida and the nation. Enjoying wildlife and its habitat is free to all, but the programs providing habitat conservation are not. 

Florida hunters specifically pay for managing wildlife through the licenses and permits they buy. For instance, all adult waterfowl hunters purchase a federal duck stamp. It’s a program the hunters helped create in the 1930s. I'm not sure how paying a fee for a license is "buying" the FWC.

Last year's hunt was supposed to run for as long as seven days, but after two, hunters were close to their quota of 320 bears.

"A lot of people think that tells them how many yahoos there were out there blasting bears," one hunter told me, "but what it told me was, there were plenty of easy-to-find animals. I think the 4,000 bear population they talk about is probably more like 8,000."

Wiley said his bear team has "scientific methods" for keeping track of the animal populations, "although it's not so easy to monitor animals that move around a lot and are so secretive. ... We give the bear count a margin of error of between 5 and 10 percent. 

Judge the competence of the FWC's bear program for yourself. Take 15 minutes to look at the the video, "Living With Black Bears." Click on this link or watch it at the bottom of this story. It was shot in 2009, so some of the numbers quoted are a little out of date. The program is still basically the same and the content is worth your time.

The black bear is an "umbrella species" in Florida, Wiley says. What that means is, if stewards of the environment manage to protect enough of the habitat of these magnificent creatures -- if they get that right -- they get it right for most of the other small, fur-bearing animals.

The proposed bear hunt would be broken into three four-day periods, with hunters applying on a first-come, first-served basis. Permits would be specific to dates and areas, under a staff recommendation that will go before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission during a two-day meeting that starts Wednesday.

Hunting could be opened in 32 counties from Bay, Jackson and Washington in the Panhandle, east to the Atlantic. Nassau and Duval would not be included.

In Southwest Florida, the hunt would be "on" in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties.

Read more about the four options FWC will consider on the agency's website by clicking here

I can't speak for the 30 other states that put together bear hunts, but I'm not worried about ours. Florida's conservation programs won my confidence a long time ago.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith


1. If Gov. Scott did not hold Florida's state employees pay at the bottom of the barrel and he would allow the FFWCC to hire more people to assist with wildlife and human conflicts, most of these complaints would be resolved. I am not a state employee; however, I do feel that my interaction with those employees would be more satisfactory if those people were paid enough to help them feel appreciated--a.k.a. improved morale! A higher pay scale for Florida's employees would also generate larger pool from which to hire qualified individuals. 2. The leaders of many local (city/county) governments refuse to implement the use of bear proof containers because the trash collection companies actually oppose the use of bear proof containers. The contractors complain about the expense and/or waste of time incurred. The solution to that problem is simple--void their contracts and find other contractors willing to comply with the demands of the local agencies and governments. 3. Don't blame the people trying to solve the problem(s). Don't sit on your hind end and complain about the problem(s) or the people trying to solve the problem(s). Don't be part of the problem! Get involved as a stakeholder and assist the FFWCC personnel solve the very issues you are complaining about. It doesn't matter if you are for against hunting. It is important that you have an open mind. FFWCC employees are interested in preserving ALL of our environmental and wildlife treasures in spite of our actions as humans to eradicate the same with habitat loss and incursion, poisons, pollution, overharvesting/poaching, enhanced climate change, etc. 4. Our wild animals were here long before us. They don't want us here either! They are just trying to get by like the rest of us. There are no easy solutions.

Thank you, Nancy, for a great article about conservation. Conservation of ecosystems requires human management because we've altered the nature systems too much for them to balance properly on their own. The same goes for wildlife populations. We have a lot of very passionate scientists working for FWC and other government agencies and for the general publi to doubt them is sad. They are, to the best of their ability, trying to help these ecosystems by practicing great science and sharing it with us. i too support the bear hunt under the proposed modifications. One of the hallmarks of successful conservation is the practice of adaptive management. Do the best you can with the science you have and when you learn what needs to be improved, change your management for the better. The proposed hunt changes are just that; better management than we had last year as a result of learning from the experience.

Ask more hunters - like the one who responded "he thinks" FL has more like 8k bears? Why was such an ignorant response even printed. And now you yourself debunk the FWF's opinion? You question the payroll of their sides biologists without a thought to who's paying your sides biologists? Embarrassing. The self-serving agenda's need to stop. Folks like you Chuck, you just make it worse. There is a reason bear hunts HAD to stop and FL bears were protected over 20 years, and it wasn't due to less available habitat! Accept responsibility. Mismanagement DOES happen. Saying something is a "success" doesn't just make it true. Last year was a joke and can't blame the anti's for that or for the damage done to public perception of hunting. Hunters need to stop feeding the bears via deer and other game feeders. That degree of available food is increasing population faster than trash and bird feeders are.

Born in FL 72 years ago. Left FL for good in 1972--too many Yankees. I suggest a one way valve at the state line. Only allow Yankees in but not out. That way they cant move where I live. WE HAVE TOO MANY ALREADY! BTW. We have deer, turkeys and bears in our back yard often. No problems. We love them but, the half back Yankees we have complain about them. Yes they move here from FL.

Not a hunter but support the hunt with modifications proposed. Limit number of permitted hunters allowed to hunt on certain days so FWC can manage the hunt. Bears are opportunistic - if there's an easy food source they will find it and then you have a problem. I've got bear-proof cans which that has an impact until the bears carry them into the woods. We didn't have a problem until we got trash collection service. FWC needs to make sure there are a sufficient inventory of the bear-proof cans available so residents can get them after the bears break them or steal them. I do support the hunt on a limited basis. We've got to manage both the bear behavior and the human behavior.

So now it is the governments job to provide people with trash cans. It really does not matter much what the FWC does. Florida is over, the bears are over, a major hurricane hitting Broward will cover the southern peninsula with water and the pythons may well be the only animal left in what was once the Glades. In the end we won't have to worry about them as they will starve to death once all the diminishing wildlife is eaten or killed. A power grid failure seems inevitable and fresh water supplies gone will be the only things that can save what was once a true paradise. Just wait a while - although I am sure Alan Grayson will have a plan. Like most Democrats, his stance is that "I don't care if it cost 2 trillion dollars, if it saves even one life it was worth it".

Trapper - I didn't say that Govt should provide the trash cans - I'll pay for mine but when the bear bends the lids or damages the can - there must be an inventory to replace the broken can or your gonna be feeding a bear with your garbage. Just saying!

If Florida imposed an impact fee for moving here - the way many municipalities do - if Florida's economy did not depend on another 1,000 people a DAY moving here - there would be no need for a bear hunt. Everything about Florida that made it special is about down the toilet. What we need now is Hillary to bring in 10,000 refugees and give them their benefits and Obama to legalize illegals. The Everglades are dead and over. Ain't no bringing them back. Ain't no wildlife there anyway thanks to the pythons. There is not ONE body of water in Florida where it is really safe to eat the fish. We should soon run out of fresh water. Sewage dumps into most coastal estuaries. Septic tanks get the rural areas. The bears are not the problem and if they get a few idiots, God bless them. Say no to the hunt.

We used to have an impact fee in Florida, but the "Smarter People" thought is wise to get rid of it..

Good position on impact fees... Until Scott gutted it, Florida had a functional Department of Community Affairs - and the concept of "concurrency" that meant those who developed had to pay their fair share of the infrastructure costs of their "development". Guess what, now? Stupid us. Just keep blaming it on our President.

It was being gutted way before Scott was even heard of...

Good position on impact fees... Until Scott gutted it, Florida had a functional Department of Community Affairs - and the concept of "concurrency" that meant those who developed had to pay their fair share of the infrastructure costs of their "development". Guess what, now? Stupid us. Just keep blaming it on our President.

President? What President? The only thing in Washington is a sad, little towlhead cowering behind his mama, big, bad, Michele! What we need is a real President who won't bow to foreign countries, and who will not scatter OUR money by funding these bloodsuckers! GO TRUMP!!

Feed this moron to the bears. One big problem solved.

I think the Alligator population needs some thinning too.

It's about an exercise in raw power, not pragmatic choices that enhance the reputation of our state. ""Hunter Conservationists" as you call them - are the problem. Naturally none of the "hunters" wanted to talk to National Geographic - just might be personally responsible. There are 4 choices. This is the worst of the lot. Florida can be better than this. Bad Karma.

As one of the lead hunters in the fight to restore the bear hunt and the only active hunter that is a sitting and participating member of the Bear Technical Assistance Group with FWC, I would have gladly spoken to National Geographic had they called me for an interview. The simple fact is that they didn't call any hunters. Had they called any number of hunters, either those who participated in the hunt or those of us who are leaders in the hunting community, we would have gladly participated in the article and given our opinions. Nancy, this is a well written, factually correct article and you've obviously done your homework. Unfortunately for Florida, so many of the outspoken opponents to the bear hunt are not concerned with facts or pragmatic solutions to the bear problems we face. They've simply decided that they are going to fight at all costs to stop the hunt because they don't understand the benefits of hunting, don't understand what conservation truly is or means, and refuse to accept anything that doesn't fit their personal agenda. All yuo need to do is look at the recent letter drafted by their so-called "expert biologists" to understand that truth and honesty are not in their best interest. The accusatory tone and fallacious manner in which they attempt to reputiate hunting and the bear hunt were easily debunked by FWC's response. The years of solid scientific study and data collected by the bear team with FWC (which has been peer reviewed) is not valid to them because it flies in the face of their desired outcome. They cry like spoiled children who can't have their cookie before dinner. Their elitist mentality is nothing new. This is the SOP for the loony leftists. Come wednesday at the FWC Commission meeting, they will have another rude awakening. Personally, I can't wait to wipe the smug looks off their faces and watch the tears come rolling down their smug, flush cheeks.

I am for more guns too, in fact why has the RNC, who traditionally is in the pockets of the NRA, banned guns from within the Republican National Convention? This sounds like such a hypocritical position since giving everyone within the convention a free gun would solve most of the nation's problems.

Thanks Nancy for this thoughtful article...needless to say that the anti-hunters out there won't believe a thing you said in your column...I've been hunting for the 33 years that I've lived in Tallahassee and I've never seen a bear...nevertheless, if the professionals at FWC say that a bear hunt is warranted, then I too believe in their assessment...I didn't apply for a bear hunt license last time because I just didn't have the time to do so...but I'm interested in doing it this year if the panhandle section of thee state is again allowed to hunt bears...just like deer, humans need to manage wildlife so that we can live and play in our beautiful environment...the only way to do that is to let the FWC scientists and experts make recommendations and then follow through...the FWC is never going to allow so many bears to be killed that it endangers the overall bear population...I watched the video and it was very educational...thanks again for your on-point column!

Great comment Barney ol' boy! Your comments are only what you've practiced for so long, in Tallahassee. Long line of BS just to make Nancy feel good about herself, and you too, so that when she's absolutely desperate for another column, you'll get the call! I reckon you're just hedging your bets! GO TRUMP!!

Not only do hunters support FWC with fees like licenses, but there is a tax on all ammunition that helps FWC so even target shooters are also supporting conservation - not always understood

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nancy smith


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