A Florida judge has ruled the Florida Bear Hunt Oct. 24 can go forward.

Environmental groups argued before a judge Thursday to stop Florida's planned bear hunt, set for later this month.

Speak Up Wekiva, a Seminole County-based group argued the once-endangered black bear population could be at risk because Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission won’t be able to control how many bears hunters kill.

Fred Bohler, a former bear response agent for FWC, said it would be easy for a hunter to continue hunting without officials knowing about it.

“Because the vast land and several access points," Bohler said to an attorney.

A wildlife biologist testified he doesn’t think it’s possible for FWC to cut the hunt short if hunters are killing too many bears.

“They have said they have personnel that can go out in the field and contact hunters if we have what we call a premature closure," said biologist Dr. Stephen Stringham. "Since they have not presented any information on how they’re going to do that, I have to say they haven’t proven it.”  
Some residents who battle bear problems on a daily basis say a bear hunt is needed – even if it means bear hunting near homes.

FWC attorneys agreed, arguing the black bear population is rapidly increasing, and needs to be controlled.

“Yes, bears are going to die," said attorney Ryan Osborne. "That’s not something the commission is glorifying. The decision to arrive at bear hunt was not made cavalierly or easily. It was hard.”

The seven-day season is scheduled to begin Oct. 24.

FWC has already sold more than 2,000 bear-hunting permits since they went on sale in August. The rules crafted by FWC call for killing no more than 320 bears.

State wildlife officials are also requiring the hunt go on for two days even if the quota is reached. Hunters are also being allowed to kill an unlimited number of bears during the first two days.

Speak Up Wekiva representatives said allowing hunters to kill an unlimited number of bears over the first two days of the hunt shows little concern for an animal that was once on the threatened species list.

"Because this agency was created by a constitutional amendment, it should follow the voters' intent," said Chuck O’Neal, with Speak Up Wekiva. "And the voters, 75 percent of which have made it clear they do not want this hunt."

The black bear population was on the decline in the 1970s and 1980s, which prompted Florida Fish and Wildlife to place black bears on the threatened species list.

Thanks to conservation efforts, researchers said the bear population began to recover — and grow.

The black bear population is now more than 3,000 in Florida, according to state wildlife officials.

FWC officials have acknowledged the majority of feedback the agency has received is against the hunt, but they said they have to weigh public opinion versus scientific research.

The FWC also says that they agree with animal rights supporters: The best way to minimize human-bear conflicts is through managing garbage and food attractants, such as utilizing bear-proof trash cans. But, hunting is a one tool in their comprehensive approach to curbing the population, officials said.

Proponents have cited run-ins with bears in residential areas as their rationale for supporting the hunt.