Bear hunt stopped in Panhandle, Central Florida; ongoing in other areas

By Jerry Hume, Christina Jensen & Jeff Allen, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Sunday, October 25, 2015, 4:07 PM EDT
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With bear hunting quotas met Saturday in the East Panhandle and in Central Florida, hunting will not go on in those areas for now.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife officials, bear hunting will continue only in the Jacksonville area and South Florida between Fort Myers and Miami. Those areas are open for bear hunting Sunday.

A total of 207 bears were killed Saturday, out of 320 allowed for the hunt. FWC said 99 bears out of 100 were killed in Central Florida. That number was updated to 139 on Sunday, the most in the state.

In the East Panhandle BMU, 81 were killed in the East Panhandle BMU. Only 40 bears were supposed to be killed in that area.

Even though the BMUs have been closed, FWC said officials will still be monitoring Sunday. They say deer hunting season is still going on.

FWC said hunters can check on any closures to Bear Management Units by calling the Bear Hunting Hotline, toll free at 1-844-FWC-BEAR (392-2327).

FWC said a total of 3,778 bear hunting permits were issued, with several hundred bought online Friday night. Hunters began taking aim throughout the state just before sunrise.

Within five minutes of the start of the bear hunt, one hunter had already shot a bear.

“And I view animals as beast and burden, and food, and other people view them as pets.  And we view things differently,” said the hunter, who did not identify himself.

“This bear came walking along and it looked pretty good, so I took it,” said another hunter, Paul Palmer.

Bear Hunt News & Info

FWC estimates the black bear population has grown to 3,500 in the state, up from a few hundred in the 1970s. It’s the first statewide hunt in Florida in 21 years.

Over the last few years there have been several bear attacks on residents and their pets, especially in Central Florida. However, FWC says the hunt is not in response to those attacks. The hunt is part of the bear management plan set up back in 2012.

Bear hunting is allowed in four of the Bear Management Units. FWC set the quota for the Central BMU at 100 bears. The unit includes 13 counties, including every Central Florida county by Osceola County.

Opponents of the bear hunt, who unsuccessful tried to legally stop the bear season, say it's cruel to bears and potentially dangerous.

Volunteers with Speak Up Wekiva are monitoring the FWC check stations across the state. Some of them say they’re concerned hunters won’t follow the rules.

“I think there will be hunting in areas where they know they can get in and out, and not bring the bears here even if they have a permit because it’s probably not going to be convenient,” said Maureen Meagher, a volunteer with Speak Up Wekiva.

To manage the hunt, FWC set up 33 stations where hunters must record each kill within 12 hours. Penalties for violating bear hunting rules range from a $50 fine to $500 and 60 days in prison. Hunters cannot use dogs or bait to lure the bears, and must only kill bears that weigh more than 100 pounds and that don't have cubs present. Among the weapons allowed: shotguns, bows, pistols, revolvers and crossbows.

“It is an honor system, like in areas that are wide open like the Ocala National Forest.  But we feel this is no different than any other hunt where they’ve gone and checked in,” said Greg Workman with FWC.

FWC experts also say hunter success most likely will be low, based on experiences in the 32 other states that allow bear hunting.

Opponents say they have 200 volunteers set up at the 33 check stations to monitor the bears that are being weighed and measured as a part of the count.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bear check station Rocks Spring Run nature preserve in Sorrento is one of 33 bear check stations across the state where hunters will have to check in. (Jeff Allen, Staff)

Bear attacks man on eve of controversial hunt

Wildlife officials are investigating after a bear attacked a man outside a motel in Eastpoint, Franklin County in the Panhandle.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officials say Charles Griffin was walking near the Sportsman's Lodge Motel and Marina on Friday night when he encountered a bear. He was released after being treated for nonlife-threatening injuries. Wildlife officials are conducting trapping efforts.
Protests are planned around the state. Activists said the state should instead focus on trash management and curbing the smell of food in garbage.
Over the last few years, bears have attacked three women in Seminole County and killed several people's pets. Some Seminole County residents say they are all for the statewide hunt because of those incidents.

In April 2014, a Longwood woman was attacked by a bear as she walked near Markham Road and Brackenhurst Place in Longwood — four months after another Longwood woman was attacked while walking her dogs in her neighborhood off Markham Woods Road.

In December 2014, a woman walking her dog along Sherbourne Circle in Heathrow was bitten on the arm by a bear.

Earlier this year, a Longwood family says a bear killed their dog behind their home on Glen Ethel Lane.

About two weeks ago, a bear killed a small dog and attacked its owner in a mobile home park in Orange City.

 But those against the bear hunt called it a cruel solution.

"If you've ever watched a bear get shot, it's not a pretty sight," said protester Bruce Sowden. "I'm just totally against this hunt."