The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided Wednesday not to conduct a bear hunt in 2017, according to reports.
FWS commissioners voted 4-3 to hold off on a bear hunt this year, the Fort Myers News-Press reported.
The last bear hunt was held in 2015 after the state closed bear hunting in 1994. In 2015, more than 300 bears were killed in two days. The hunts sparked outrage when they occurred.
Commissioners heard four hours of testimony both for and against bear hunting from 80 people at Wednesday’s meeting, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
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Commissioner Ron Bergeron, who reportedly voted against a 2017 hunt, told the News-Press that a hunt is a management tool when approaching the capacity of a population.
“Due to this being an iconic animal, I think it deserves higher appreciation. I look at the bear like I look at a bald eagle, a manatee or a panther,” Bergeron told the News-Press.
Bear populations have grown to more than 4,000, up from around 300 in the 1970s, according to FWC surveys. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday black bears don’t warrant a listing under the Endangered Species Act.
“This bear management challenge has been the biggest challenge we’ve dealt with. And the most controversial,” FWC director Nick Wiley told the News-Press. “We firmly believe that the science is as solid as it can be. It’s absolutely rock solid, to support a sustainable hunt in some manner.”
Wiley went on to say that FWC needs to educate the public on how hunting can help issues that come with a population becoming too large.
Commissioner Aliese Priddy told the News-Press the state won’t approve the hunts, which she says science warrants, because of political and social pressure.
“I told you whenever I saw that the bear hunt was not going to go forward (in 2016) that we’d see ourselves right here at the same place kicking the can down the road one more time. And that’s exactly what happened,” Priddy told the News-Press.
The Orlando Sentinel reported the commissioners unanimously voted to not hold a 2018 hunt so the bear management plan could be updated.