FWC issues bear-hunting permits despite lawsuit

FWC issues bear-hunting permits despite lawsuit
Photo via Florida Fish and Wildlife

Weeks after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission voted almost unanimously to revive the practice of hunting black bears in the state, a coalition of environmental groups has filed suit to block the hunt.

Seminole County's Speak Up Wekiva was joined by the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Center for Biological Diversity (based in Tucson, Arizona) and Environmental Action (based in Boston) in asking a court to consider the constitutionality of the FWC's decision. The suit was filed in Leon County circuit court on Friday, July 31.

300 Estimated number of black bears in Florida in 1970s

"[The FWC] violated its constitutionally mandated mission to preserve and protect wildlife when commissioners voted in June to authorize the state's first bear hunt in two decades," the organizations said in a statement about the suit. Bears are one of the state's natural resources the FWC should protect, the groups contend, so the agency shouldn't be putting them in the line of fire.

The FWC's claim, in opening season on bears, is that the population needs to be thinned. Only three years ago, black bears were considered endangered in Florida. Today, the state estimates that there are 2,500 to 3,000 bears in the state – but in a June interview with the Tampa Bay Times, FWC executive director Nick Wiley said the commission doesn't really know how large the population actually is. That's partly because their official count isn't due to conclude until next year. What they do know, another commissioner told the TBT, is that there have been a growing number of black bear encounters with humans. "We don't want to be exposed if there's another attack," commissioner Richard Corbett (who is a mall developer, by the way) told the TBT. "We've got to take action to protect children and other people."

2012 Year the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to remove black bears from state’s endangered list

The environmental groups have pointed out in their campaign against black bear season, however, that hunting bears isn't proven to keep them from invading backyards and neighborhoods – smart bear-proofing is, but the FWC has been intent on getting this hunt underway, and the FWC voted 5-1 in favor of it.

The goal of Speak up Wekiva's suit was to block the sale of bear-hunting permits until a court can resolve whether the FWC's actions were legal. However, the agency went ahead with its plan and began selling bear-hunting permits on Monday, Aug. 3.

Nobody knows for sure Number of bears living in the state today; the FWC says it’s probably around 3,000, but the agency’s official count won’t be completed until next year.

Don't be too surprised. The FWC, as it stands now, is made up of real estate investors, developers, contractors, ranchers and lawyers, many appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, under whose administration nonpartisan organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has determined that enforcement of environmental regulations has plummeted. Sure, Scott was recently given an award for his environmental stewardship by the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida – but that organization, it turns out, is a supporting organization for the FWC. Its leader? A Miami real estate developer and lobbyist.

Good luck, bears. You're going to need it.

FWC also takes aim at panthers

The next species on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s hit list? Florida panthers, which are critically endangered. It’s estimated that only 100-180 breeding panthers live in the state now, but according to FWC Liesa Priddy, they’re becoming a nuisance.

“Panther populations are straining and currently exceed the tolerance of landowners, residents and recreationists in the region,” according to a FWC policy memo drafted in part by Priddy that suggests that the animals may no longer need the “endangered” designation. Priddy, a South Florida rancher appointed to the FWC in 2012, told news outlets that she lost approximately 10 calves to suspected panther attacks over the course of several years. However, she assured everyone who asked, reduced protections for panthers would have no benefit for her personally.

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