The NRA Wants Florida to Hold More Bear Hunts

This past October, Florida held its first bear-hunting season in more than 20 years. Though the miniseason was scheduled to end last a week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) called it off after just two days. Hunters took 302 bears in that short time, just short of the 320 limit that was placed on the hunt for the entire week. 

Needless to say, the whole thing was controversial. 

Proponents claimed Florida's black bear population had grown too large and posed a danger to humans. Environmentalists and animal rights activists claimed the event was unnecessarily cruel and wasn't even a scientifically sound way to prevent dangerous interactions between humans and bears. They pointed to the fact that the black bear had been removed from Florida's endangered and threatened species list only in 2012

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials are now testing the waters about the possibility of future hunts. They'll ultimately decide on the matter at their June 22 meeting. Today the National Riffle Association (NRA) came out strongly in favor of another hunt. 

Marion Hammer, the NRA's powerful Tallahassee lobbyist, sent the FWC a letter advocating for a second hunt. Hammer is also the former president of the national NRA and the current executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida. 

"For some time we have raised concerns about the explosion in the bear population and the growing danger to human life as well as pets and property damage," the letter reads. "The growing number of bears intruding into suburban neighborhoods is creating danger for homeowners and has been evident for some time. There is no question that bears are attacking people, killing pets, and doing property damage." 

Hammer also pointed out that, on average, 240 bears are killed in collisions with cars each year, posing a threat to motorists. In the letter, Hammer also floats the theory that the black bear population is probably higher than official statistics suggest. 

"While FWC is working to educate people about securing trash and is trying to move dangerous bears out of residential areas, those programs are helpful but cannot succeed without hunts to reduce the population," the letter concludes. "Continuing a liberal bear hunting season will help bring the bear population under control and help restore safety to families in areas where bears are prolific."

Tensions over the possibility of another hunt continue to grow, and local governments have now gotten involved. Miami-Dade, Volusia, Seminole, and Pinellas counties have all voiced formal opposition to another hunt. 

"If the Commission insists on conducting a future bear hunt, the South region of the state, which includes Miami-Dade County, should be excluded," read a proclamation passed by the Miami-Dade County Commission in February. It also urged the FWC "to reinstate the prohibition on bear hunting throughout the State of Florida and focus more attention on removing conflicts between bears and suburban areas through deterrent techniques." 

Animal rights' activists claim that keeping humans and bears separate can be better achieved by adopting behaviors such as using tightly sealed garbage cans. 

The FWC board is made up of seven members, five of whom were appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. Its members include builders, a developer, a hotel magnate, a rancher, and a Republican Party of Florida activist. 
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Kyle Munzenrieder