People would be allowed to kill bears on their property without permits if they feel threatened or think it is necessary for protection, under a bill that moved forward Tuesday in the Florida House.
The House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Subcommittee voted 12-4 to approve the measure (HB 87). Sponsor Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, said the proposal wouldn’t allow bear hunting. “We are told to blow whistles. We are told to spray mace. We are told to run,” Shoaf said. “That is not what we need to be doing. We need to be able to protect ourselves and our property.”
The proposal would prohibit people from possessing or selling the bear carcasses. The proposal also wouldn’t apply to people who provoke bears. It would require people to notify the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission within 24 hours of killing bears.
The bill is filed for the 2024 legislative session, which will start Jan. 9. Shoaf has been unable to pass similar measures in the past. But the issue has gained attention since Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith expressed concerns in September about increased interactions between people and bears in Smith’s rural county southwest of Tallahassee.
Opponents of the proposal say the focus should be on improved trash management and education to help reduce human-bear interactions. Katrina Shadix, founder and executive director of Bear Warriors United, told the House committee that Franklin County has a problem with unsecured trash.
“I traveled there a few weeks ago. I counted 210 trash cans that were out by the road and 209 were unsecured,” Shadix said. “We know that by securing trash we reduce bear sightings and bear encounters by 90 to 100 percent.”
Bear hunting has long been controversial in Florida. The last state-sanctioned bear hunt was held in 2015. It was expected to result in 320 bears being killed over a one-week period. After two days, 304 were dead.
A 2017 estimate placed the bear population in Florida at 4,050. Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, has filed the Senate version of Shoaf’s bill (SB 632). Shoaf and Simon represent Franklin County and numerous other rural North Florida counties.
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