My mind wanders this Sunday morning, struggling with the myriad of topics and subjects that could be discussed. And in this Day 2 of the Great Black Bear Massacre of 2015, which has truly become just that, coming up with ideas is not a problem.
Should I talk about the lack of scientific evidence that supported this hunt? Should I talk about the idiotic approach (my words) of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in implementing this hunt? Should I talk about the clear conflict of interest of the FWC? The fact that the actual acronym should be the FWCC; and that it is obvious which “C” was left out? Should I talk about the FWC completely disregarding and ignoring the 75%+ of the Florida population against this hunt? Should I talk about the shortcomings of those hunters participating in this tragedy? Should I talk about the steps involved in returning the black bear to the threatened species list, because that is exactly where he is headed?
It is indeed a somber day and a hunt that was supposed to have lasted up to seven days will probably end in two; with two of the four territories ending the hunt after one just day because the devastation was so incredible. Had the hunt continued into day two in those regions, it may have wiped out the bear population entirely. And in fact, it just staggers the mind to think that people in position of authority, those supposedly charged with protecting our environment and protecting the species, would fail this epically? Anyone with a small iota of common sense would have seen the recipe for disaster. Compact a hunt into a small window of time, sell an unlimited number of hunting permits, establish a hunt limit, but don’t count, don’t monitor and don’t limit the number of bears killed in the first two days, and what other result could have occurred? Seriously? This was the plan.
On top of the poorly laid plan, the FWC acknowledged that the hunt would also rely upon the “honor” system, a code of ethics if you will. They entrusted that these hunters (1) would not shoot mothers with cubs in tow (didn’t happen); and (2) they would not shoot any cubs (didn’t happen). Lactating mothers were found within the dead…as were bear cubs. A hunter with a code of ethics is an oxymoron, wouldn’t you agree?
So, as of 9:00 on Saturday night, the FWC reported 207 bears killed…or the preferred hunting terminology, “taken” or “harvested”. The FWC also reported this to be “a number that is well within the allowable range of a conservative hunt”.
The FWC press release further indicated that “the harvest success in the East Panhandle BMU, while higher than expectations, is an indicator of the region’s increasing bear population. FWC took a conservative approach to setting harvest objectives, building in buffers so the number of bears harvested will stabilize growing populations while ensuring healthy bear numbers.“
Unfortunately, the 207 number has been challenged as accurate. Of this total, 81 bear were killed in the Florida Panhandle, exceeding the allotment by more than double the targeted 40. Another 99 bear were killed in central Florida, meeting the 100 targeted in that region. However, only 12 bear were allegedly killed in the North, a territory with a target of 100; and 15 bear in the South, a territory with a target of 80.
Those dedicated volunteers monitoring the hunt (because the FWC could not be entrusted with this task) had observed bear carcasses loaded in trucks at an average of 1.1 per hour for all 33 check stations, which would effectively equate to about 450 bear for the day. And this number did not include any bear that may have been hunted on private land; does not include any bear that may have been shot and not found; and does not include the orphaned cubs that will either starve to death or be euthanized by FWC officials. (There were 11 lactating mothers reported among the carnage.)
The statistics even suggest this number is substantially and artificially low. The fact that one region reflected total killed to be 200% over target, and another region at exactly the desired range. Yet, the other two regions only reported 12% and 19% rates. The sad reality is that the true impact of this hunt may never be known. However, simple math suggests the actual number is more likely to be in the 800 to 1,000 range, which would represent about one-third of the entire bear population. That is not sustainable.
It is this writer’s opinion that the entire FWC commission needs to be removed for dereliction of duty and in its abject failure to serve in the role of conservation commissioners. The Florida black bear was removed from the threatened species list three years ago, and was (and I emphasis was) one of the true remarkable stories of bounce back…increasing from a few hundred in the 1970’s to perhaps 3,000 today. Unfortunately, the FWC’s faulty plan combined with poor management of the hunt may return the black bear back to the threatened species list; and in some regions such as the Panhandle, it may be decades before the bear returns to sustainability.
All this said, the purpose of today’s blog was not necessarily to criticize, although this is such a disaster of a result, it is impossible to write something without talking about this epic failure. However, what I really wanted to write about is the dedication and commitment of all of the volunteers participating as monitors, the attorneys fighting to stop this, the protestors standing on the side of road with signs, volunteers calling, emailing and writing in an effort to stop this.
There are not enough positive words in the dictionary that could possibly capture the gratitude and thankfulness of these dedicated, impassioned, wonderful people who have dedicated their time, energy and effort to stop this massacre. And when that effort failed, they were on the front lines, monitoring every check station, documenting the events and taking photographs. And all those activists having empathy with the bear, this was an excruciating exercise. They felt the pain that the bear must have felt when bullets were piercing her body. They felt the pain of a mother bear’s final thoughts of her orphaned cubs. They had to experience the hunter’s ear to ear grin; one proud of an action that took away the breath of another living being. And they had to stand there, knowing there was absolutely nothing they could do.
These are the brave volunteers; and if you know one of these dedicated people, please let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. But also send them love and compassion, and ask that they remain brave and courageous; and know that their efforts will have not gone in vain.
There is nothing more that can be done to stop this weekend’s carnage. However, continued pressure can force those behind this plan to be held accountable for their actions; and we can ensure that such an event never happens again. Be safe. Be strong. Be brave. Lose the battle. Win the war.