Yes, Florida does have bears — black bears, the kind that rarely bother humans other than rifling through trash cans for food. That's reason enough, apparently, for the State of Florida to authorize a new bear hunt in the state, with permits already issued for hundreds of hunters to track the beasts.
Animal activists are still holding out hope they can pressure the state to reconsider, though. They're rallying in South Beach tomorrow to protest the upcoming hunt that's set to kick off later this month.
They hope their demonstration in the historic Art Deco District will generate enough awareness of the bears’ plight to force Gov. Rick Scott to cancel the hunt, which is planned from October 24 through 30.
“The week before this immoral bear hunt is going to take place, we are going to have a rally at Lummus Park in Miami Beach,” says Aléjandro Dintino, one of the organizers of the event. “This event is to protest the bear hunt as well as to educate the public as to how this hunt started in the first place.”
In June, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved the hunt as a tool to decrease the number of nuisances caused by the bears, such as the animals ravaging residential trash bins in search of food.
In September, the state agency set the limit of bears allowed to be “harvested” at 320, 10 percent of the estimated population in the Sunshine State. However, critics of the hunt declare this an arbitrary number because there is no reliable estimate of how many black bears currently live in Florida.
FWC officials admitted to using data from 2002 to reach their decision on how many bears may be killed, and no up-to-date estimate will be available until next summer, when the agency is expected to complete a new bear population study.
Because of this lack of current information, the conservationist group Speak Up Wekiva filed a lawsuit this summer against the state to delay the hunt until the 2016 population survey is completed. However, on October 1, Judge George Reynolds of Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit denied their motion for an injunction to stop the hunt.
However, activists have not given up. Geragi Jeff, president of the Miami-based Animal Activists Network, says his group is just one across the state that is standing up against the hunt.
He is concerned because the bears, which were taken off the state’s Endangered Species List in 2012, are only wandering into residential neighborhoods because human development is encroaching on their natural habitats. He further believes the animals may endure “agonizing” deaths due to the lack of direct oversight of how the hunters behave in the wild.
“We are committed to doing everything within our legal right to disrupt and to help stymie this uncalled-for hunt,” says Jeff. “We will stand up for those that have no voice.”
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Activists believe the best way to curb the number of nuisances caused by the bears is for residents to better secure their trash cans. Indeed, the FWC concedes to this point and that the hunt itself will not stop humans from encountering the bears.
"The most successful way to reduce human-bear conflicts is to secure items that attract bears into neighbor[hoods],” states the FWC’s website.
As of early October, more than 2,200 bear hunting permits have been issued to hunt the 320 bears.