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Bill Would Block Bear Hunts

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Daniel Berna
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Black bears couldn't be hunted in Florida for a decade, while at least $1 million would be set aside so more people could purchase bear-resistant trash containers, under a measure filed Tuesday in the Senate.

The proposal (SB 1304) by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, also seeks to regulate burn schedules in state forests and parks to allow for the regrowth of oak trees, saw palmettos and other berry-producing plants that feed black bears.

"It is our obligation to ensure the preservation of the iconic species as well as the safety of our neighborhoods," Stewart said in a prepared statement.

During the moratorium, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would have to conduct a 5-year population trend study of black bears, which includes an impact of hunting. The bill is part of the continued reaction to a black-bear hunt in October 2015 in which 304 bears were killed. The hunt was the first in the state in two decades.

Supporters have argued that hunting is one way to manage bear populations and to reduce potentially dangerous bear-human interactions.

The commission, which voted against holding a bear hunt in 2016 to focus on non-lethal means to reduce bear-human interactions, has not discussed plans for a hunt this year. In 2016, the agency spread $825,000 across 12 counties to help reduce the potential for conflicts between Florida's bear and human populations by helping residents and businesses acquire bear-resistant trash cans.

Stewart's bill, similar to a House proposal (HB 491) filed in early February by Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando, would prohibit the recreational hunting of Florida black bears until July 1, 2027.