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State sets open season on bear hunting

A local resident revealed he was one of the bear-hunting permits sold in Madison County, and one of about 1,400 sold statewide as of Wednesday, August 5 -- a significant number, given that the permits had only gone on sale Monday, August 3. The number of permits to be sold is unlimited. So don’t despair if a bear hunt is one of the items on your bucket checklist and you haven’t yet gotten a permit. According to Paul Schulz, deputy director of the Division of Hunting and Game Management with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the permits will be available until Oct. 23 -- the day before the hunt. The seven-day event, in fact, is scheduled for Oct. 24 -30. In actuality, however, it could last anywhere from two to the seven days, depending on when the overall “harvest quota” is met. The goal, Schultz said, or at least the number of bears to be killed that his group will recommend to the FWC board in September, will be 320. That’s 320 bears divided among the four bear management units (BMU), Schultz clarified. The 320, he said, represents more or less 20 percent of the statewide bear population, which is estimated to be about 3,000. The 320 figure takes into account road kills, bears that the agency is forced to put down and bears that die of natural or other causes. Schultz provided a breakdown of the kill quotas for each of the four BMUs. These quotas are 40 bears for the East Panhandle BMU, 100 for the North BMU, 100 for the Central BMU, and 80 for the South BMU. He said that successful hunters would be required to check in their bear kills at each of the BMUs to ensure that accurate counts are kept. He said that as the quotas were met at the individual units, the hunts there would be stopped.

Hunters also would be responsible for checking to make sure that the hunt was still on as it got nearer to the October dates, Schultz said. He said the intent of the hunt was to stabilize the bear population and that it had nothing to do with the increasing incidents between bears and humans. He said the idea was to keep the bear population at sustainable levels in each of the BMUs, in terms of the available space and resources within each unit. The FWC’s assertion is contradicted by hunt opponents who have filed a lawsuit in Tallahassee to stop the activity. One of the plaintiffs in the suit is a Lake Mary-based group called Speak Up Wekiva, and the other is Chuck O'Neal, an environmental activist with the League of Women Voters. The plaintiffs’ suit alleges that in authorizing the hunt, the FWC is violating its constitutionally mandated mission to preserve and protect wildlife. The last state-sanctioned bear hunt in Florida was in 1994. Schultz declined to comment on the pending litigation, saying only that the FWC planned to proceed with the hunt, notwithstanding the suit. It’s reported that the FWC’s governor-appointed commissioners voted 5-1 in June to allow the bear hunt “despite overwhelming opposition from citizens who blame human encroachment into bear habitat for the steady rise in nuisance complaints that fueled the issue.” Since December 2013, bears have reportedly mauled four people in the state, the most recent being a teen in Franklin County. The lawsuit argues that the FWC lacks evidence to support the supposition that hunting bears in remote wildlife management areas will reduce bear and human incidents in suburban areas. The bear-hunting permits are available for purchase at the Jefferson County Tax Collector’s office and at licensed establishments in the Tallahassee area, such as Wal-Mart, DICK's Sporting Goods and Sports Authority. Permits may also be purchased online at www.gooutdoorsflorida.com. The cost of the permits is $100 for Florida residents and $300 for non-residents.

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