National Opinions

In Florida's bear hunt, emotion and agendas trumped facts

AP

Much of the reaction to Florida's bear hunt has been understandably emotional.

It's gut-wrenching to see a mama bear blown away, her belly sliced open, knowing her cubs were left orphaned.

But the reality is that hunting is part of this country's DNA. Bear hunting is legal in 32 other states. John J. Audubon himself developed his passion for animals while hunting them.

And frankly, aside from vegans, human outrage about killing animals is awfully selective.

Deer, bobcat and wild turkey all have babies too. So do cows, chickens and pigs. I guarantee you hunted wild bears led better, freer lives than the animals most of us ate for dinner last night.

For all those reasons, I maintained that I could understand bear hunting. It isn't for me. But I understand the logic.

IF the state first completed its bear count.

IF all the bears killed were killed for consumption.

IF cubs weren't killed.

IF new mothers weren't killed.

IF state officials knew what they were doing.

But here's the thing: They didn't.

None of those conditions was met. State officials got it wrong time and again.

For starters, they predicted hunters wouldn't reach the state's kill limit during the entire weeklong hunt.

Yet hunters passed those limits in a single day in two of the state's four bear-hunting districts. The entire hunt was called off on Day Two.

State officials claimed hunting bears would be hard.

It was not. Bears haven't been hunted here in more than two decades. They were used to seeing humans point cameras, not rifles. So they were easier prey.

State officials said their hunting rules would prohibit cubs from being taken.

Wrong. At least two bears less than 100 pounds were killed. One was about 40 pounds, meaning it was probably about 8 months old and about the size of a dog. Talk about hunters being savvy, rule-following stewards simply didn't prove universally true.

But here's the key point: State officials were warned about all this.

In a court hearing three weeks before the hunt, a bear expert for Speak Up Wekiva predicted virtually every single thing that went wrong: the speedy, mass killings; the orphaned cubs; all of it.

Yet state wildlife officials mocked him.

When Florida Fish and Wildlife attorney Bud Vielhauer cross-examined former bear-response agent Fred Bohler, Vielhauer tried to emasculate him as an intellectual know-nothing.

"Do you have a Ph.D. in biology? Or do you have any Ph.D.?" Vielhauer asked.

"No. I have practical experience," Bohler responded.

No master's degree or bachelor's either, Vielhauer stressed.

"No, sir."

Really, Vielhauer said, you're just a glorified "critter getter."

No, Bohler said. "A bear-response agent for FWC."

"But that's a critter getter."

Poor, dumb Bohler, without any fancy degrees.

Yet almost everything Bohler predicted -- everything the state called "mere speculation" -- came to fruition.

Funny how a law degree doesn't make you a bear expert.

The reality: This bear hunt wasn't based on facts from the get-go.

It was billed as a solution to bear maulings by everyone from Gov. Rick Scott to the chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Yet even state officials later conceded that was a bunch of bunk -- that it was ludicrous to think that killing bears in remote woods will do anything to stop bears already roaming neighborhoods 30 miles away.

As long as development encroaches and trash is unsecured, the conflicts will continue.

The truth is: This state just wanted to hunt bears.

Criticize animal-lovers as being emotional if you want. But it was hunt-happy wildlife officials -- supposed stewards of nature -- who ignored the facts.

It would be consistent to allow bear hunting if the state first completed its bear count to get a base-line population and then got all its predictions right.

But that's not what happened. It was a speedy slaughter orchestrated by officials who, it turns out, knew less than the supposedly uninformed "critter getter" they mocked.

smaxwellorlandosentinel.com

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