Yesterday I attended the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) hearing in Jacksonville, Florida, which was convened to discuss lifting a 20 year ban on black bear hunting throughout the State. The Florida Black Bear has made an impressive comeback during that time from a population of approximately 500 in the 1970s to approximately 3,000 today. During this same time span, the human population of Florida has increased to over 14 million, and recently surpassed New York as the third most populated state in the country.
This increase in population has accelerated urban sprawl, particularly in the “I-4 Corridor,” which connects Orlando and Tampa. As a result, there has been an increase in human/bear conflicts recently. The FWC is attempting to make the case that lifting the hunting ban is part of a plan to address those incidents. But I, along with hundreds of other wildlife activists, was on the scene to tell them, “not so fast.”
Representatives (and new friends) were on hand from South Florida Wildlands Association, Conservancy of Southwest Florida and The Humane Society of the United States & Florida. We all made the case that hunting bears in forests would not reduce bear incidents in the suburbs. Furthermore, we argued that more common sense solutions including better garbage management and education would have a better effect than allowing a black bear killing spree. In my remarks, which you can see in the video to the right, I debunked a hunter’s claim that hunting bears in forests would send a signal to bears near suburbs not to mess with, “humans, the dominant critters.” Specifically, I challenged the hunter and the commissioners to find bears who use social media to communicate with each other between forests and the suburbs. My comments were backed up by more than 23,000 letters from our members, including over 1,000 current Florida residents, who oppose lifting the ban. FWC has promised to give those letters the attention they deserve.
For me, the best moment of the hearing came in the form of a precocious, young Native American named Joshua Kulkasecki. Joshua offered the statement of the day when he informed the commissioners, “I represent 25% of Florida’s population and 100% of its future; and one day I would like to show my children a Florida Black Bear.” Joshua went on to let the commissioners know that while he has encountered black bears, he used what he learned in elementary school to avoid danger, and asked why these same tactics could not be used by everyone in lieu of hunting. I was very encouraged by Joshua’s remarks because he not only reminded me that I do this work for future generations, but also of my favorite Jewish saying, “The old shall become new and the new shall become holy.” Joshua was nice enough to grant me an interview, which you can view below.
Unfortunately, the FWC commissioners are pressing ahead with their plan to permit bear hunting, even though their own staff expert, Dr. Thomas Eason, Florida Director of Habitat and Species Conservation, admitted that, “hunting is not going to be the solution to bear conflicts.” In other words, while FWC is using bear incidents as a scapegoat to open hunting season. It’s clear that their decision will be based on more trophies for hunters, not the safety of Florida’s people and especially not its wildlife.
The fight for black bears is not close to over. We will keep you informed of the next steps we plan to take with our friends in Florida to end bear hunting once and for all. Not only is it the right thing to do for the bears, as Joshua reminded us, it’s the right thing to do for future generations who also have a right to enjoy a pristine environment with a wealth of biodiversity.