Florida bill would protect mama bears during hunts

Black bears mothering cubs under 100 pounds would be off-limits if the state conducts bear hunts in the future, under a measure filed Wednesday by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando.

Stewart's proposal (SB 156), filed for the 2018 legislative session, also would make the unlawful harvesting of saw palmetto berries on state lands a second-degree misdemeanor. The berries are a staple of bear diets.

A similar measure Stewart filed for the 2017 legislative session was approved by one committee but did not go further. Stewart's proposals are part of the continuing 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. Hunt supporters have argued that hunting is one way to manage bear populations and to reduce potentially dangerous bear-human interactions.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has voted the past two years against holding bear hunts. A delay was approved this year to allow staff members to complete an ongoing 10-year bear management plan, which could be completed in two to three years.

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