Florida Prepares for First Bear Hunt in Decades

by | August 5, 2015 AT 10:50 AM

By Stephen Hudak

Despite a legal challenge, state wildlife authorities began selling licenses today for the first bear hunt in Florida in more than two decades.

A license, $100 for a Florida resident and $300 for a non-resident, allows a hunter to kill one bear.

About 600 people bought a permit Monday with most buying the license online, said Tammy Sapp, communications manager for the state Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's division of hunting and game management. All but six were bought by Florida residents.

The state will continue to sell permits through Friday Oct. 23, the day before the hunt starts.

The state is selling an unlimited number of bear permits, but only a few hunters will bag a bear.

State officials will allow the killing of as many as 320 bears -- including up to 100 in Central Florida -- but promised to shut down the hunt if the kill limit is reached before Oct. 30, the end of the bear season.

Speak Up Wekiva, a conservation advocacy group based in Lake Mary, and Chuck O'Neal, a natural resources advocate for the League of Women Voters, sued Friday in Leon County, alleging new bear-management rules -- including those establishing the hunt -- are unconstitutional.

They contend the hunt is not based on "sound science" and is contrary to the wildlife agency's conservation mandate.

Wildlife officials have not discussed whether to issue refunds if a judge shoots down the hunt, FWC spokeswoman Susan Smith said.

She said the agency was confident the lawsuit would not stop the hunt.

Hunters in Central Florida would be allowed to take aim at bears on private lands and in the Ocala National Forest, Rock Springs Run State Preserve, Seminole State Forest and Lake Monroe Wildlife Management Area.

Smith said the purpose of the hunt is to stabilize a bear population. Most recent estimates show that population has grown from about 300 animals in 1974, when the bear was added to the state's threatened species list, to more than 3,100 animals.

The state began a population update last year and FWC estimates the number of bears in Central Florida alone may exceed 1,500.

Licenses are available at Tax Collector offices throughout the state, sporting goods stores and most Wal-Marts.

A bear license also can be bought online through FWC's website or GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

A special-use bear permit is required to hunt bears in Florida.

(c)2015 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)