Florida calls off 2016 bear hunts, saying use critter-proof trash cans instead

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted against another bear hunt Wednesday, as experts suggest bear-proof garbage cans as a more humane solution. 

State of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries/Reuters
A black bear sits in a tree in this photo provided by the State of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Florida has decided against holding another bear hunt this year.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4 to 3 Wednesday against a staff recommendation to hold a bear hunt in October 2016, after a controversial 2015 hunt killed 304 bears in two days. 

Bear hunting had been illegal in the state since 1994, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in October, but a growing population caused the commission (the FWC) to schedule a seven-day hunt to kill as many as 320 bears. The temporary measure came after several attacks on Floridians' pets in recent years. Bears also commonly raid trash cans for food, and the FWC said the hunt was part of a bear management plan. 

Recently, the FWC's announcement that it was considering holding another hunt started a fierce debate between hunters and animal rights activists. 

Proponents such as former FWC commissioner Richard Corbett, said the bears are a dangerous threat to Floridians. 

"Most of those [critics of the hunt] have never been in the woods," Mr. Corbett told reporters, according to The Tampa Bay Times. "They think we're talking about teddy bears: 'Oh Lord, don't hurt my little teddy bear!' Well, these bears are dangerous."

Four incidents of bears directly interacting with humans and many raided trash cans led the state to re-consider the hunt. However, Laura Bevan, the Humane Society of the United States' southern region director, told the Monitor in April that the hunt would not properly address that issue. 

"Problem bears in human areas are already dealt with harshly by officials," Ms. Bevan said. "The October bear hunt targeted bears in the woods, not the problem bears."

Instead of the hunt, the use of bear-proof trash cans is widely seen as a possible solution. Tracy Coppola, director of the Humane Society of the United States' Wildlife Abuse Campaign, told the Monitor although the trash cans are more difficult to use by trash collectors, they are already the norm in many Western states.

Without the cans, on the other hand, "We've basically invited the bears to dinner," Bevan said. 

If both sides put as much effort into improving trash and food regulations as they did arguing over the hunt, real progress could be made, reporter Beth Kassab argued in an opinion piece for The Orlando Sentinel. At least five counties and about 12 cities passed symbolic resolutions against the killing of the bears, but only one county passed an ordinance to cut down on the food sources that attract bears. 

Seminole County passed an ordinance in December that requires residents and business owners to secure their trash, bring in bowls of pet food, clean barbecue grills, and hang up bird feeders, the Sentinel reported. Failing to follow the ordinance, which took effect in February, could result in fines of up to $100 a day. 

Jason Davis, chairman of Florida's Volusia County council, told Ms. Kassab that the county focuses on educating residents who have problems with bears, as bear-proof trash cans were deemed too expensive when discussed a few years ago.

"If a bear gets into the garbage can and they call Animal Control, right then and there they get the big education," Mr. Davis said. "We give them the education right on the spot." 

Other counties are following Seminole County's example: Lake County, for example, has now passed an ordinance requiring residents to use a bear-resistent container or lock up their garbage. Davis said Volusia County was also considering following in Seminole's footsteps.

The FWC has set aside $825,000 to help counties that pass such ordinances switch to bear-proof trash cans. Complaints about bears wandering in human neighborhoods are down since such ordinances have gone into effect, according to county officials. 

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