TEDDY ROOSEVELT – A True Hunter Conservationist

Brian Yablonski, Chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was recently compelled to publish an editorial entitled “The Hunter Conservationist Paradox”. In response, I thought it important to dispel some myths and to present a true and accurate portrayal of the man known as the “Conservation President”; as well as some of his protégés. Perhaps some people should take notes as to what true conservation is.

teddy-roosevelt

Mr. Yablonski’s most recent piece was submitted as a celebration of Theodore Roosevelt’s 157th birthday and his conservation legacy. This editorial was published on the FWC website five days after the first Florida black bear hunt in 21 years, and was in obvious response to the public criticism of the FWC decision to host this hunt. It was also intended to pay tribute to the one we know as the conservation President. “The Hunter Conservationist Paradox” summarized the conservation accomplishments of this great President; who at 42 years of age became the youngest President to reside in the Executive office. After a lengthy childhood battle to overcome severe and debilitating asthma, President Roosevelt eventually became the 26th President of the United States, following President William McKinley’s assassination in 1901.

“Hunter as conservationist” has long been the first line of defense presented by hunters when challenged with the question as to why they hunt. With the plethora of grocery stores and fresh markets that are abundant today, the conservation argument long ago replaced the “hunt to eat” defense. And while most people would agree that hunting to eat is a justifiable reason for this activity, the connection between conservation and hunting is a more complex one.

However, making a generalized assumption that all hunters are conservationists is as dangerous as stating that all Southerners are dumb (thank you Hollywood and the “Dukes of Hazzard”); all Northerners are rude and all Californians are laid back. I know many intelligent Southerners, many pleasant Northerners, and many Californians who are stressed out. And it was Alexandre Dumas who said “All generalizations are dangerous, including this one”.

There is no question that the hunting community contributes to conservation via license and permit fees and federal duck stamp purchases. But, is killing off a particular bird or animal due to a perceived shrinking of habitat, or a food shortage, all in the name of conservation truly conservation? I can argue, but will leave that up to the reader to make his or her own conclusions.

Do hunters improve the gene pool by killing the weakest and oldest? If they targeted the weakest and oldest, then this might be a valid argument. But, the reality is that the trophy target is the lion with the darkest mane, the elephant with the longest tusk and the rhino with the longest horn. Hunters brag about killing the 500 lb. Florida black bear, not the 200 lb. black bear. Studies have shown that today’s African lion has a smaller, lighter colored mane. (The dark manned lions have become rare.) The average elephant tusk is smaller, as is the rhino horn. Hunted animals in general are smaller today, because the gene pool is weakening, not strengthening. This is the handiwork of man, not nature; and it clearly is not conservation.

However, let’s be clear. This is not a condemnation of all hunters and all hunting. Hunting for sustenance is not subject to debate in this article. Hunting when there is no possible threat of extinction, or risk to the survival of the species is not part of this conversation. Some people will disagree, based simply on ethics and morals; and that killing an animal for the sake of killing is wrong. And while I am in that camp, those are my ethics; my standards in how I live my life. The standards that mold and guide others may be different from mine. And truthfully, that probably makes neither of us right or wrong.

Now that we have established the ground rules, let’s discuss the crux of this “Paradox”; and how the significance of President Roosevelt’s contributions as a late 19th / early 20th century “hunter conservationist” is relative to today’s hunter who also touts the same hunter conservationist mindset.

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ROOSEVELT AS CONSERVATIONIST

By now,” it is well documented that President Roosevelt had a keen sense of right and wrong. During a bear hunting trip in to Mississippi, local hunting guides fretted over the fact that Roosevelt had not yet spotted a bear to shoot. Using dogs, they tracked down a feeble old bear on its last legs and tied him to a willow tree. They then summoned the president so that he could have the honor of dispatching the animal. Saying that it would be unsportsmanlike to do so, Roosevelt refused to kill the animal. A political cartoon captured the moment, which inspired a Brooklyn candy shop owner to put two toy bears made by his wife in his shop window. He asked the president’s permission to call these toy bears “Teddy bears,” and the rest is history.” (www.theodoreroosevelt.org.)

This teddy bear story captures the true character of Roosevelt (Teddy or TR), and few would argue that this in itself sets him apart from many hunters of today. With the proliferation of canned hunting, or “high-fence hunting” because canned hunting has such a negative connotation (don’t be confused…it is exactly the same thing), much of 21st century hunting is no less cruel than tying a bear to a true. The only difference is that TR refused to kill his bear.

Is this one isolated story enough to establish Roosevelt as a conservationist, or a hunter conservationist? No, but TR also established nearly 230 million acres of land under federal protection. He established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, five national parks, and 18 national monuments. And one of his first notable domestic moves was the National Reclamation Act of 1902, which established irrigation projects in the west.

The famous Smithsonian – Roosevelt African Expedition of 1909 covered 2,500 miles of British East Africa and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan terrain over an 11-month period, where 11,400 animal and plant specimens were collected, and would become what we now know as the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Granted, many will detest that those specimens included lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, elephants, buffalo and rhino. However, this collection process was spread over a year’s period and over many geographical regions, to minimize the environmental impact of this expedition. And while this expedition did involve the killing of many animals, the underlying purpose was science, study and education.

Roosevelt expedition 2 crx

Given Roosevelt’s accomplishments, particularly the establishment of the millions of acres of land under federal protection, few would question that he was a true conservationist. However, TR did not condone hunting just to hunt and referred to this as “butchery as objectionable as any form of wanton cruelty and barbarity.” Even in 1901 he was concerned with the preservation of wildlife and said “More and more, as it becomes necessary to preserve the game, let us hope that the camera will largely supplant the rifle.”

The African lion has been proposed to be designated as a threatened species by the US Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) since 2011, and although the lion’s population has shrunken from 300,000 in Roosevelt’s time to an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 today, the FWS still has not granted this designation, which is a story onto itself. However, few would question that any species experiencing that dramatic of a drop should raise significant concern for their survival. Yet, how many hunters have put down their rifles in an effort to protect the survival of the species and picked up a camera instead? Quite the contrary, actually. Even with the serious decline of the African lion population, trophy hunting of this majestic creature has only increased in recent years; not decreased.

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Roosevelt also emphatically emphasized the importance of protecting all resources. “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.” This man was a true conservationist; and few, if any, question that.

OTHER HUNTER CONSERVATIONISTS

Mr. Yablonski also mentioned several other notable “hunter conservationists”, including Aldo Leopold, Ding Darling and George Bird Grinnell. And there is no question as the conservation contribution that these individuals have also made.

Aldo Leopold was considered by many as the father of wildlife management and of the United States’ wilderness system. And early in his career, Aldo Leopold was assigned to hunt and kill bears, wolves, and mountain lions in New Mexico. Local ranchers hated these predators because of livestock losses, but Leopold came to respect the animals. He developed an ecological ethic that replaced the earlier wilderness ethic that stressed the need for human dominance. And rethinking the importance of predators in the balance of nature resulted in the return of these apex predators to the New Mexico wilderness areas.

He was quick to criticize the harm inflicted to natural systems, out of a sense of a culture or society’s sovereign ownership over the land base – eclipsing any sense of a community of life to which humans belong. Clearly, Leopold’s vision and recognition of the importance of apex predators such as the bear, wolf and mountain lions flies in the face of those hunters that hunt these animals for sport, or because they are deemed to be nuisance animals.

Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was a Pulitzer Prize winning American cartoonist and was directly responsible for securing some $17 million for wildlife habitat restoration. He established the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission and made great strides toward bringing hunter and conservationist together. He also pioneered leadership in the field of proper game management. Darling initiated the Federal Duck Stamp Program, which uses the proceeds from the sale of duck hunting stamps to purchase wetlands for waterfowl habitat. Darling is largely responsible for the establishment of the network of game refuges in the country today, Darling was called “the best friend ducks ever had.” He also liked to remind overzealous developers that “ducks can’t lay eggs on picket fences”; and few would question his contributions to conservation.

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Ding Darling illustration.  Interesting perspective on hunting.

George Bird Grinnell was prominent in movements to preserve wildlife and conservation in the American West. He wrote articles to help spread the awareness of the conservation of the buffalo. He lobbied for congressional support for the endangered American buffalo. In 1887, Grinnell was a founding member, along with Theodore Roosevelt, of the Boone and Crockett Club dedicated to the restoration of America’s wildlands. Grinnell was also credited with single-handedly saving the American bison from extinction…a true conservationist.

And although Mr. Yablonski’s article only referenced Roosevelt, Leopold, Darling and Grinnell, there are several other hunter conservationists that are also due a mention.

John James Audubon was notable for his extensive studies documenting all types of American birds, and for his detailed illustrations that depicted the birds in their natural habitats. His major work, The Birds of America (1827–1839), is considered the finest ornithological work ever completed. He also identified 25 new species of birds during his lifetime. He too qualifies as a true conservationist.

Charles Darwin, through his collection and study of species, noticed similarities among species all over the globe, along with variations based on specific locations; leading him to believe that they had gradually evolved from common ancestors. He came to believe that species survived through a process called “natural selection,” where species that successfully adapted to meet the changing requirements of their natural habitat thrived, while those that failed to evolve and reproduce died off.

Lewis and Clark provided valuable information about the topography, the biological sciences, the ecology, and ethnic and linguistic studies of the American Indian, and the mysteries of the vast area known as the Louisiana Purchase quickly disappeared after Lewis and Clark completed their journey.

THE 21ST CENTURY HUNTER

The famous 19th and 20th century conservationist hunters above set aside millions of acres of land to protect forests, rivers, mountains, and wildlife. They saved the buffalo from extinction. They established a national network of game refuges. They rethought the importance of apex predators in the ecosystem. They provided us theories on evolution. They provided us with the greatest ornithological work ever completed. So, how does this compare to the hunters of today?

Today’s so-called “conservation” hunters include Corey Knowlton, who recently paid $350,000 to kill an endangered black rhino. They include Ted Nugent, who just refers to people against hunting as “stupid” because no one should question this activity.

We have Dr. Walter Palmer who illegally killed a black bear in one Wisconsin county and dragged his body 40 miles to another county, where the killing would have been legal. He offered three different hunting guides $20,000 to corroborate his story. They didn’t and he admitted guilt. In July 2015, he illegally killed the iconic Cecil the Lion after Cecil was lured from Hwange National Park onto private property. And most recently, he was videotaped driving his pick-up truck along the boundary of his property, allegedly in an effort to keep deer on his property so that he could shoot them.

We have hunters that participate in canned hunting expeditions, where lions and other animals are raised by humans for the sole purpose of being killed. They are trusting of humans, often sedated for an easier kill, and hunters are virtually guaranteed of a kill.

Hmmm…So, is it just me, or does the modern-day hunter as conservationist fall just a little short when measured against these great men that Mr. Yablonski mentioned in his editorial? Or perhaps it is simply that Roosevelt, Darling, Leopold and others truly were “hunter conservationists” and today’s version is simply a hunter? That seems about right.

WHAT WOULD TEDDY SAY?

I’m glad you asked, because TR did indeed have an opinion on this.

“The mere fair-weather hunter, who trusts entirely to the exertion of others, and does more than ride or walk about under favorable circumstances, and shoot at what somebody else shows him, is a hunter in name only. Whoever would really deserve the title must be able, at a pinch, to shift for himself, to grapple with the difficulties and hardships of wilderness life unaided, and not only to hunt, but at times to travel for days, whether on foot or on horseback, alone.”

The great naturalist, John Muir, was referenced by Mr. Yablonski as having spirited debates with President Roosevelt, and that one of their meetings inspired Roosevelt’s “aggressive approach to protecting American landscapes and wild treasures for future generations”. He also noted that Muir recognized and accepted the hunter conservationist paradox personified by Roosevelt.

While Muir certainly respected TR’s opinions and there is no question that those campfire meetings had a profound effect on President Roosevelt, I question where Mr. Yablonski’s obtained the information that Muir “accepted” the idea of hunter as conservationist. This is found nowhere in my research of Muir.

TR and John Muir

In fact, Muir was quoted as saying “Now, it never seems to occur to these far-seeing teachers that Nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit – the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.”

CONCLUSION

Rather than asking if today’s hunter is truly a conservationist, perhaps the more appropriate question to ask is whether the term “hunter conservationist” even exists? Certainly, someone can be a hunter and someone can be a conservationist; and Roosevelt has proven it possible to be both, but not necessarily at the same time. I can capture my travel adventures through the view of a journalist and I can capture my travel adventures through the view of a camera. But, I can’t do both at the same time. I am either photographing or I am writing. You are either destroying (killing) or you are conserving. It can’t be both.

Comparing the conservationist efforts of today’s hunter to Theodore Roosevelt and other great conservationists is like comparing me to Neil Armstrong because he walked on the moon and I had a glass of Tang. And until Corey Knowlton establishes a national park to protect our wildlife; or Ted Nugent implements a revolutionary strategy to save the African lion or leopard from extinction, we should leave Theodore Roosevelt out of the conversation.

Finally, the great men discussed in this article made their conservation contributions in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s; a time when few species faced the same level of vulnerabilities and threats of extinction that our wildlife faces today. Times have changed; and just because something was acceptable a hundred years ago, doesn’t mean it is acceptable today. I believe that if Teddy were alive today, he would be incensed that people would dare compare him to the modern-day hunter; and to suggest that the modern-day hunter shares the same conservation values that he possessed. There simply is no comparison.

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The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Takes Aim at the Florida Black Bear

On Saturday, October 24, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) authorized the first hunt of the Florida black bear in 21 years; and three years after this iconic animal was removed from the threatened species list. This hunt was to last for seven days.

However, the death toll and carnage inflicted upon the black bear was so devastating, the FWC had to call the hunt on Sunday, effectively meeting the hunting goal of 320 bear in less than a 48-hour period. And News-Press.com described this hunt as “poorly conceived, poorly coordinated, poorly conducted and the end result was embarrassing for Florida.”

SOME BACKGROUND

In 1994, the Commission of Game & Fresh Water Fish (GFC) closed all remaining areas in the state of Florida for bear hunting; and at that time there were only about 1,250 black bear remaining in the state. But, thanks in part to this hunting ban and other conservation efforts, the population had recovered to an estimated 3,000+ bear in six core areas (Eglin, Apalachicola, Osceola, St. Johns and Big Cypress) and two remnant areas (Chassahowitzka and Glades / Highlands).

Yet, despite the fact that the Florida black bear had been removed from the threatened species list three years ago, the FWC made the decision to authorize the killing of up to 320 bear in this hunt. This number was based upon (1) bear count estimates; (2) historic annual mortality rates of 8% to 10%; and (3) an assumption that a subpopulation of at least 200 bear could absorb and survive up to a 23% annual mortality rate and still sustain the species.

As noted in the chart below, the FWC determined that four geographic regions (East Panhandle, North, Central and South Regions) supported this hunt, with the “Objective” in each region to reduce the bear population by 20%, which also factored in the annual average mortality rate.

                                 Est. Bear      20%      Mortality      Hunt
Region                     Total       of Total    Estimate  Objective EastPanhandle         600           120              80               40
North                           550           110               10              100
Central                     1,300           260            160             100
South                           700            140             20               80
Total                          3,150           630           270             320

The map below identifies the four Bear Management Units (BMU) that were targeted for this hunt.

bear-management-units-hunt-map

In an effort to justify this hunt, the FWC argued that the increase in complaint calls, as well as several reported incidents of actual bear attacks justified the need to pare down the bear population. According to the FWC, in 2014, they fielded in excess of 6,000 complaint calls from concerned citizens. They also reported that 227 black bear were killed in vehicle related accidents in 2014. And while this information on the surface might appear to justify the need for this hunt, there is more to the story.

CONFLICTS & INCONSISTENCIES ABOUND

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is composed of seven members; all appointed by the governor and all serve five-year renewable terms. However, the current commission has been described as “a Breakfast Club of power players: a builder, a road builder, a rancher, a hotel magnate, a power company executive, a Republican bigwig, and a developer”. There is not a single conservationist or animal welfare advocate that sits on this board; and it can easily be argued that every one of these Commissioners has a conflict of interest when it comes to the protection of Florida’s wildlife and the environment.

This said, in 2012 the FWC released the “The Florida Black Bear Management Plan” (The Plan), a 200+ page study with an overall objective to “maintain sustainable black bear populations in suitable habitats throughout Florida for the benefit of the species and the people”; and to “address these conservation challenges and to ensure that bears will never again need to be listed as a threatened species”.

Additionally, Florida Administrative Code 68A-4.009 was promulgated to further protect the Florida Black Bear, stating:

(1) No person shall take, possess, injure, shoot, collect, or sell black bears or their parts or to attempt to engage in such conduct except as authorized by Commission rule or by permit from the Commission;

(2) The Commission will issue permits authorizing intentional take of bears when it determines such authorization furthers scientific or conservation purposes which will benefit the survival potential of the species or to reduce property damage caused by bears. For purposes of this rule, activities that are eligible for a permit include:

     (a) Collection of scientific data needed for conservation or   management of the species;

(b) Taking bears that are causing property damage when no non-lethal options can provide practical resolution to the damage, and the Commission is unable to capture the bear.

In 2014, the FWC updated bear population counts for the North and Central Bear Management Units (BMU); however, they had not completed counts for the East Panhandle and South BMU’s. And although those counts had not been updated in 13 years and were to be completed in 2016, the FWC still made the decision to move forward this hunt in 2015. Even Ron Bergeron, the only FWC Commissioner that voted against the hunt was quoted by the Sun Sentinel in September to say “You should have all your science in place before you hold your first hunt in 21 years, especially when you’re dealing with an icon animal.”

In addition, the FWC chose not to limit the number of permits for this hunt; and ultimately sold a total of 3,778 – enough to kill every bear in the state. And although the FWC established a limit of 320 bear, they also guaranteed a two-day hunt; and acknowledged that the total number of bear killed would not be counted until after the end of the second day. So, with a two-day commitment, there was no guarantee that the number of bear killed would be limited to the targeted 320.

While the FWC justified this hunt based upon the perceived “human – bear conflict”, they also acknowledged via their website that “The mere presence of a black bear does not represent a problem. In fact, living in black bear country can provide unique and rewarding experiences! The best way to enjoy our wildlife is to keep them wild and away from food sources like garbage, pet food, and bird seed.”

The FWC further acknowledged that “there is no shortage of natural foods in Florida’s forests for bears. They are very opportunistic feeders and are technically omnivores. Bear typically wander into residential areas because the food they can find there is high in calories and easy to get. The FWC further noted that “black bears avoid confrontation 90% of the time. They are naturally shy animals that will generally give plenty of warnings (e.g. jaw popping, huffing, bluff charging) before attacking”.

Nick Wiley, the Executive Director of the FWC acknowledged that the two attacks on humans in 2013 and the two attacks in 2014 did not prompt the bear hunt because they can’t prove this would reduce future incidents. He further stated that “We have never proposed bear hunting as a solution to conflicts. It’s to control the bear population. We don’t know for sure it will lessen the conflicts. We don’t have the science to prove it.”

The FWC also agreed with animal rights supporters that the best way to minimize human-bear conflict is through managing garbage and food attractants, such as utilizing bear-proof trash cans. And while the FWC suggested that “hunting” is a one tool in their comprehensive approach to curbing the population, the Florida Black Bear Management Plan makes no mention of hunting the black bear as part of the plan.

The FWC also acknowledged that 75% of the 40,000+ calls, letters and emails from Florida residents stated opposition to the hunt; but that they had to weigh public opinion versus scientific research…even though as Mr. Wiley acknowledged, there was not supportable scientific research to justify this hunt.

SO, WHAT WAS THE OUTCOME?

According to the FWC, total bear killed in this hunt was 304. However, both the North and South bear management unit (BMU) fell well short of their targeted range. The North BMU only met 25% of the targeted number, while the South BMU was slightly higher at 275. On the opposite extreme, the Central BMU (143%) and East Panhandle BMU (285%) embarrassingly exceeded their target numbers; particularly considering that those numbers were met on the first day of the hunt.

Naturally, this raises the question as to whether the FWC truly had any idea as to the actual population count; or if this  were simply a guesstimate. And if the FWC was working with inaccurate assumptions and inaccurate data, then we really have no idea as to the detrimental impact this hunt may have on the black bear, both short-term and long-term.

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OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

As noted earlier, there were nearly 6,000 complaint calls made in 2014. However, the majority of these were made by concerned citizens to either report a bear in the area, or a complaint the bear had dumped over a trash can and was rummaging through the garbage.

And while there were 227 black bear killed in vehicular accidents in 2014, this actually represents a 20% reduction over the 285 bears that were killed in 2012; thanks to the construction of wildlife underpasses, the posting of warning signs and reduced speed limits in frequent roadkill areas, providing of information at rest stops and tourist information areas, and other measures.

Thus while complaint calls have increased from 1990 to 2014, this would be expected, given that Florida’s population of 13.03 million in 1990 had increased 53% to 19.89 million by 2014. Add 6 million more people and development that infringes upon the bear’s natural habitat, this equates to more human – bear conflict.

Florida Passes New York in State Population

Diane Eggeman, FWC’s hunting director, predicted the hunt would claim 183 bears, based upon similar hunts in other states; while Brad McNaughton, the Central Florida Bear Hunters Association President commented that “If you do it by the (Florida) rules, no dogs and no baiting, it won’t be easy. It’ll be a luck deal. They’re sneaky suckers,” he said. And although Ms. Eggeman substantially under estimated the number of bear killed, perhaps there is some truth to both of these statements. They both assumed that all 3,778 hunters would play by the rules, which unfortunately, was not the case. Those rules included:

• No baiting. (Evidence has been presented that baiting did take place; and based upon the number of bear killed so quickly on Saturday, speculation is that baiting had occurred days, if not weeks before the hunt started.)

• No killing of mothers with cubs (The final tally was 179 female bear, of which 21%, or 38 were lactating.)

• No killing of cubs under 100 pounds. (Per Politico Florida, eight of the 170 were less than 100 pounds; and again using the same ratio for the 298 bear kills reported by the FWC, this would indicate a total of 14 cubs killed.)

Hunt Florida TV channel, commission spokesman Tony Young said, “If you see a bear that comes out into view, and you’re thinking about harvesting it because it looks big enough, give it a little while and make sure it doesn’t have a cub with it.” Unfortunately, this advice was not followed by everyone.

FAILURES ABOUND

This article would be substantially shorter if we summarized what went right; because quite frankly, the only “right” of this entire event was in the fact that it was mercifully shut down after the second day. So, let’s summarize the failures.

• The FWC is a commission consisting of developers, attorneys, ranchers and hunters. Not a single commissioner has experience in conservation or biology. Simply put, the financial interest of a developer or rancher is contrary to the protection of Florida’s wildlife, including the black bear and Florida panther, both of which are deemed to be a threat to “progress”.

• The FWC produced a detailed Bear Management Plan in 2012 which was developed to ensure the black bear would never again become a threatened species. A hunting program was never addressed as part of this plan; and this recent hunt represents a significant step backward in what had been a great story of recovery.

• Seventy five percent of Florida residents were opposed to this hunt; yet the FWC ignored the overwhelming majority…and ignored the science as well. Yet, there is no evidence that the FWC decision was a nod to hunters either. There were a number of hunters that were also against the hunt, with some describing this event as about the same as going out and shooting your own dog. Many of the bear had grown accustomed to humans, had no reason to fear them, and walked right up to the hunters. With exception of fences or cages, this essentially became a glorified canned hunt.

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• The FWC choose to move ahead with this hunt before final bear counts were even completed. The completion date was targeted for 2016; but the FWC offered no adequate explanation as to why this hunt was held before finalization of the counts. As the final numbers attested, it was clear that the FWC had no idea as to how many bear, nor where they were located geographically.

• The FWC did not limit the number of permits sold for the bear hunt. Ultimately, there were 3,778 permits sold…enough to kill every black bear in the state. Obviously, that was not going to happen. However, the FWC certainly positioned the black bear into a precarious position that, with a guaranteed two-day hunt, could have been decimated beyond recovery. This was a poor advised gamble that could have had (and may still have) catastrophic consequences.

• The $100 in-state permit fee and $300 out-of-state permit fees were minimal and therefore, failed to generate any significant revenue that could have been invested in bear conservation efforts. Given that this was the first hunt in 21 years and a lot of hunters excited about the opportunity of killing a black bear, the permit price seemed artificially low. This is particularly perplexing, given that Brian Yablonski, the Chairman of the FWC is a major supporter and advocate of the “economic value theory”. The theory goes that the conservation and protection of a species increases in proportion to the animal’s market value. The greater the value, the greater the conservation effort.

Therefore, one would have assumed that the first hunt in 20+ years of an iconic animal such as the Florida black bear would have yielded a much higher permit fee… $2,000 to $3,000. The final amount collected was $377,000, which will do very little toward future conservation of the bear. Higher permit fees would have raised significantly more money that could have gone toward a bear proof trash can subsidy program, further education of the residents in bear country; and investment in over-passes or under-passes, allowing bear and panthers safe haven and access over or under busy highways.

• By allowing an unlimited number of hunters, a compacted hunting period, and a two-day guarantee, the FWC was virtually assured of an unmanageable hunt. Expanding the hunt into multiple weeks and limiting the number of hunters on any given day, this would have helped to manage the hunt count, and ensured that both the Eastern Panhandle and Central Florida bear counts remained in check.

• The FWC held the bear hunt in the first place. Aside from the mistakes referenced above, the simple fact is that there was no justification to even have the bear hunt. The FWC acknowledged that there was not an over-population issue. They acknowledged that natural food sources were ample. They acknowledged that the isolated incidents where bear actually attacked humans was due to human provocation. (Bears are very shy animals, and almost never initiate an unprovoked attack.)

• The FWC acknowledged that the most effective way of controlling the human – bear conflict is to educate the public, and to place a greater emphasis of bear proof trash cans in bear country. Yet, the FWC ultimately justified the bear hunt on the basis that it would reduce the human – bear conflict, even though they acknowledged this hunt would not accomplish that goal. “We know this isn’t going to work but we are going to do it anyway” appeared to be the mantra of the FWC. Additionally, the majority of the bear killed were in Marion County, and deep in the Ocala National Forest. These were not even the bear that were creating the human-bear conflict in the first place.

AFTER SHOCKS

A week after the hunt, a kayaker discovered a dead bear cub floating in the Suwannee River; a previously unreported casualty of this disaster of a bear hunt, which brings up the necessary discussion as to aftershocks associated with this hunt.

Orphaned cubs, according to the FWC are capable of surviving on their own at about 8 months; and with an October hunt, most would have been 8 to 9 months old. Based upon the reported 38 lactating mothers that were killed, and an average litter of 2.5 bear cubs (typical litter are two to three bear cubs), that would equate to approximately 94 orphaned cubs.

And while cubs may have the ability to find food and survive on their own, a 70 or 80 pound cub would have a significantly less chance of surviving the attack of a 300 or 400 pound full-grown male, than one with a mother there to defend him or her. So, the mortality rate of orphaned cubs necessarily will be higher than the mortality rate of cubs protected by a mother bear. According to http://www.bear.org, the one-year survival rate of a litter of two bear is 88% and three bear is 82%, so an average of about 85%. Without a protective mother bear, the survival rate is assumed to be significantly less than 85%.

Additionally, subsequent to the bear hunt, there have been increased reports of bear sightings in residential neighborhoods. This is not surprising and should have been expected; but perhaps with exception of the FWC. There are two reasons for this.

BlackBears-150412-15
  Source: adn.com

One, the young orphaned bears do not have the same level of foraging experience as their moms. The logical question must be posed as to why they normally stay with their mother for an average of eighteen months if they only require eight months? The answer is simple…that is the ideal period of time that nature intended for these bear to have the best chance of survival.

And because these young bear do not have those years of foraging experience, they are likely to seek more readily available food sources like leftover food in unsecured trash cans. Even the FWC noted: “Bear typically wander into residential areas because the food they can find there is high in calories and easy to get. Because black bears are “smart enough to be lazy” and take the path of least resistance – the neighborhood. They will spend a few hours in a neighborhood getting into trash cans, bird feeders, or gardens and get the same number of calories.”

Secondly, bear are intelligent animals and many are now associating the forest with the carnage that took place in the woods. They now see the residential area as a safer environment, which obviously will only result in an increased level of human – bear conflict.

The official tally provided by the FWC is 304 bear. This appears to be an artificially low number. However, even if that is correct, after adding the unaccounted bear injured and never found, the increase in orphaned cub mortality, the increase in bear – human conflict, and loss of future offspring, what is the true death toll resulting from this bear hunt? And what is the long-term impact? Whatever the answer is, it is significantly higher than the original target of 320 bear.

THE ATTACK CONTINUES

Subsequent to the conclusion of the 2015 hunt, the FWC has now introduced proposed changes to Florida Administrative Code 68A-4.009. The most significant change to this code section would be to remove the sub-species categorization of the black bear. Specifically,

1) Remove any references to the specific subspecies of the Florida black bear (Ursus Americanus Floridanus) from the rule, including the title. This change is necessary to:

A) maintain consistency and avoid confusion because all other references to bears in F.A.C.s refer to black bears and do not refer to the specific subspecies Florida black bear, and

B) clarify that any black bear in Florida is protected under the rule. A Florida black bear is physically indistinguishable from an American black bear or Louisiana black bear, which are the two other subspecies of black bears inhabiting the eastern United States. While we have never found anything but a Florida black bear in Florida through thousands of genetic samples analyzed, removing the subspecies reference from the rule would negate the need to analyze DNA from a bear to prove it is the subspecies and therefore is protected under this rule.

This explanation sounds mundane, and suggests that the FWC is proposing this change for simplification purposes. However, the true intent is more sinister.

Current sources indicate that there are approximately 300,000 black bear living throughout the lower 48 states. And while there are actually 16 subspecies, only the Louisiana Black Bear and Florida Black Bear are in that volatile category…the Louisiana black bear currently listed on the federal register as threatened, while the Florida black bear was considered threatened until 2012.

The Florida black bear, as a subspecies of approximately 3,000, enjoys (or had enjoyed) special protections that he would not have received if categorized as part of the larger 300,000 black bear species.

From: American Black Bear Conservation Action Plan (Chapter 8, Figure 8.1 - page 146) "Historic and present distribution of black bears (Ursus americanus) in North America"
From: American Black Bear Conservation Action Plan (Chapter 8, Figure 8.1 – page 146)
“Historic and present distribution of black bears (Ursus americanus) in North America”

In other words, had the sub species title been removed back in 1994 (when the GFC imposed the hunting ban), there likely would have never been a hunting ban because technically, there would not be an existence of a Florida black bear. He would just be a “black bear” and as long as the overall species of black bear was a healthy number, it wouldn’t matter whether or not a black bear population existed in Florida or not.

Now whether that is the intent of the FWC, only the FWC can answer that question. However, this effort to amend the Administrative Code Section should be a concern to wildlife advocates. And it should be noted that the FWC also desires to remove the subspecies categorization of the Florida panther, which would remove his endangered species protections as well.

It also needs to be noted that as to whether there is a difference between the Florida black bear and other black bears, even the FWC states on their website that the Florida “black bear can be distinguished from other subspecies by genetic and skeletal differences.” So, when the FWC acknowledges that there are genetic and skeletal differences, one must question the underlying intent of differentiating the bear, yet wanting to pretend there is no differentiation. This should be viewed with suspicion.

MATHMATICALLY CHALLENGED

Additionally, the FWC has also indicated the intent to have another hunt in 2016, although in recent days Dianne Eggeman has walked that statement back and indicated that the FWC will not make a decision on future hunts until they complete a thorough review of the 2015 hunt.

Meanwhile, Thomas Eason, Director of the FWC’s Habitat and Species Conservation Division has been recently quoted to believe that there are now an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 bear now living in Florida; and producing 1,200 cubs per year. I find this interesting because it is quite obvious now that the FWC was simply guessing when they estimated the 3,000 bear in Florida. Now, they are guessing 5,000 bear? Or is it 6,000? Or does that 5,000 or 6,000 number include the 304 bear reported killed during this hunt? Does anyone really believe any of this?

With regards to the 1,200 cubs per year, this would suggest an annual growth rate of 20% to 24% per year, based upon his assumption of 5,000 to 6,000 bear. It is a generally accepted fact that the average mortality rate of a typical bear population, without undue influences of hunting and other non-natural events is about 10% per year. In fact, in determining the targeted 320 bear in this year’s hunt, the FWC acknowledged a 10% goal, which added to the 10% mortality rate, would equate to an overall number of 20%. They deemed this a conservative number, as previous studies had indicated that up to 23% of a bear population could be killed in a given year without risk of sustainability of the species.

In 1994, there were an estimated 1,250 bear. If we assume a 20% growth rate (which is based upon a 1,200 cub to 6,000 total population that Mr. Eason provided; 24% if the ratio was 1,200 to 5,000 bear) and assume the 10% mortality rate during that period (as hunting was not allowed from 1994 through 2014), this would actually indicate that Florida’s black bear population would be nearly 52,000. Yet, I don’t believe anyone would consider that to be an accurate number.

However, this is simple math; it assumes the 20% cub birth rate provided by Mr. Easton and a 10% overall mortality rate every year. Run the numbers. I did. It works. So, by this calculation, even he has substantially underestimated the overall bear population.

Unless…he is grossly exaggerating the bear numbers, or just making it up because it sounds good. This is not an accusation, but the numbers clearly do not add up; and I would have assumed that the director of habitat and species conservation would have factual data to support these assumptions.

According to the FWC, there was an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 bear before this hunt began. Assuming the 1994 number of 1,250 is accurate (and I have found no dispute of this number), this would suggest an annual net bear increase of around 4.5% per year.

Assuming the same 10% mortality rate, this would indicate a cub production rate of around 5.5% per year, substantially less than the 20% estimated by Mr. Eason. And in fact, http://www.bearsmart.com notes that “Bears are among the least productive mammals in North America.” So perhaps, Mr. Eason has been a little too optimistic concerning the reproductive rate of the black bear; or of the total population, or both.

And why would the FWC once again go on record with a number before final counts have even been completed? This just seems to further enforce incompetence or an agenda reliant upon a gross misstatements of fact, exaggerations or egregious lies.

It should also be noted that Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jon Steverson has within the past few days, proposed for the upcoming legislative session that the state open up all 161 state parks to hunting, in an effort to “maximize moneymaking opportunities.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

One must acknowledge that there are situations when the only choice we have is to forcibly reduce wildlife populations, particularly when there is a perceived over-population of that animal. Of course, that over-population is almost certainly our fault as well, as we have tampered with the delicate balance of the ecosystem. We have either killed too many predators like the wolf or mountain lion or bobcat or coyote, resulting an over-population of prey animals. Or, we have reduced the animal habitat to such a confined space, they have no place else to go. They are then considered “nuisance” animals because they are infringing on our territory, even though we actually infringed upon their territory first.

And it is ironic when you think about the fact that when the human population over-populates, we don’t hire hunters to reduce the human population to manageable levels. Rather, we simply take over more land to accommodate people. Animals generally don’t over-populate. We just force them into smaller and smaller habitats; and as those habitats become smaller, there is a perceived over-population. And the answer to that problem is to kill and reduce.

The majority of Florida’s citizens did not want this hunt in the first place. After the black eye that the FWC has inflicted upon the state with this embarrassing, unjustified hunt, one can only hopes that the FWC will bow to the will of the people…and to common sense…and to intelligent conservation measures.

The actions of the FWC leading up to this bear hunt, the management of the actual hunt, and their actions after the hunt, combined with the recent legislative efforts, and DEP’s thoughts to legalize hunting in all state parks should send an alarming message to Florida’s residents. The attitude of the current state Administration toward wildlife and the environment is rather obvious, and one only hopes that something can be done before there is irreparable damage. If not, the repercussions of this will be felt by all parties involved: hunters and non-hunters.

The FWC has masterfully manipulated a situation where many of the animal advocates and hunting advocates believe that they are each other’s primary adversary in this battle. As those two groups expend energy fighting one another, the FWC continues to quietly pursue an agenda under the radar; with the hunting and animal advocates too busy fighting one another to take notice.

Fortunately, many appear to be waking up to this; and let’s hope for the sake of the bear and all Florida wildlife, something can be done before it is too late.

THE FLORIDA BLACK BEAR HUNT – AFTERMATH

Something is bothering me and I just can’t shake this thought, no matter how hard I try. I take a deep breath and try to reflect on last weekend’s tragedy and travesty and desperately reach for even a small iota of reasoning or justification for the Florida black bear massacre. The problem is, I can’t.

A hunt that was ill conceived from the beginning, that was supposed to last for seven days, barely made two days before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) mercifully put a stop to this. And what irks me is that they are touting the hunt as being so successful, that it only took two days to reach the targeted goal. And worse, many of the talking heads on local television are also using that same word “success” to describe the hunt.

Fortunately, it appears that journalistic integrity is beginning to penetrate this charade, and the true colors of this hunt are beginning to show.

Mamabearandcubs

BY THE NUMBERS

Because this hunt was so horrific, from planning to implementation to result, it was evident and obvious that by early Saturday afternoon, the hunt would not extend beyond the weekend. And original reports on Saturday were projected out to estimate that as many as 450 bear had actually been killed; and potentially 800 to 1,000 for the weekend. That would have had catastrophic implications on the bear population.

On Sunday evening, the FWS called the hunt off and a day later, provided an official reported count of 295. However, this final tally bothers me, and bothers others, because honestly, it doesn’t add up; nor does it consider the aftermath implications. So, let’s discuss that.

In 2012, the FWC published a study entitled “The Florida Black Bear Management Plan”. This is THE handbook, THE playbook, if you will, developed by the FWC to “maintain sustainable black bear populations in suitable habitats throughout Florida for the benefit of the species and the people.” This study determined that there needed to be at least one subpopulation of at least 1,000 individual bear, as well as smaller subpopulations areas of at least 200 bear each.

So, although the overall “goal” of this hunt was 320 bear (theoretically representing 10% of the bear population), the FWC supposedly analyzed the six core bear management areas and the two remnant areas, and concluded that there were a total of four core areas that would support the bear hunt. That included the Central region (1,300 bear), representing the one sub-population of at least 1,000 bear, and three additional regions: East, North and South. And this is where the math becomes fuzzy.

Although the FWC completed counts of the North and Central bear populations in 2014, the East and South region counts had not been completed at the time of the hunt, and are not expected to be released until 2016. Yet, there was only one FWC Commissioner against the hunt. Ron Bergeron was quoted by the Sun Sentinel in September to say “You should have all your science in place before you hold your first hunt in 21 years, especially when you’re dealing with an icon animal.”

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Based upon this partially completed study, and even with bear counts in the East and South regions last occurring in 2002, the FWC still approved the hunt. So, was there any surprise that the final numbers were vastly inconsistent, suggesting that the FWC really had no clue as to what the actual numbers were, and where the greatest damage would incur, in terms of bear kills?

Region      Orig. Est.     Targeted     Actual     % of Target
East               600                 40               112              280%
North            550                100                23                 23%
Central      1,300                100               139               139%
South            700                  80                 21                26%

These numbers greatly concern me because they either suggest that the FWC really had no idea as to the territorial location of the Florida black bear; or worse, artificially reported a lower kill number so as to avoid even more outrage than currently exists today. As noted in the table above, both the North and South bear management regions only met approximately 25% of their targeted numbers, while the Central region (139%) and East Panhandle region (280%), were so substantially above their targeted numbers.

So, one must wonder if the FWC had any clue whatsoever as to what they were doing. Further, of the 295 bear reported, the FWC confirmed that 207 were killed on Saturday, representing 70% of the total. So one must also ask, why were only 88 bear killed on Sunday? Quite frankly, the inconsistency of these numbers raises a lot of suspicion and statistically, it just does not add up.

According to Politico Florida, there were a total of 3,778 permits issued for this hunt. Subtracting the 207 hunters that got their “bear fix” on Saturday, this left a total of 3,571 hunters still seeking a bear trophy. However, two of the four bear management territories had been closed, so only two remained. Granted, some of those hunters planning to hunt in the closed regions probably opted not to pursue any bear in the North and South regions. After all, their “investment” was a paltry $100 for in-state residents and $300 for out-of-state residents. So the total number of hunters on Sunday probably were less than 3,571.

That said, Sunday’s reported number sounds artificially low. If this number is truly accurate, then we should be thankful that only 88 bears lost their lives. However, I have my doubts. Did the North and South regions truly contain fewer bear than estimated, resulting in less success for the hunters on Sunday? Or did the FWC under-report?

Neither is a good answer for the FWC, but these are the only two plausible explanations. So, if the FWC did not under report, then this raises a red flag question as to the competency of the FWC members…and that may be of a greater concern to the state of Florida residents.

ILLEGAL KILLINGS

Diane Eggeman, FWC’s hunting director, predicted the hunt would claim 183 bears, based upon similar hunts in other states; while Brad McNaughton, the Central Florida Bear Hunters Association president commented that “If you do it by the (Florida) rules, no dogs and no baiting, it won’t be easy. It’ll be a luck deal. They’re sneaky suckers.” he said.

And there is some truth in both of these statements, because both were based upon one critical and important assumption: that hunters would play by the rules. Both of these individuals made these comments based upon a belief and understanding that:

• No baiting would not be involved (Evidence has proved that baiting took place.)

• No killing of mothers with cubs (Politico Florida has analyzed 170 kills thus far and of this total, 102 were female and 28 of those were lactating. Assuming this ratio is representative of the 295 reported total, then it can be assumed a total of 49 lactating females were killed.)

• No killing of cubs over 100 pounds. (Eight of the 170 were less than 100 pounds; and again using the same ratio for the 295 bear kills reported by the FWC, cubs killed is estimated to be approximately 14.)

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Excluding the estimated 63 illegal kills of lactating females and cubs less than 100 pounds, the total number of legal bears killed would be about 232. This number is still significantly higher than the 183 estimated by Ms. Eggeman; however, this does not consider the amount of baiting that apparently existed. And based upon the rapid pace of bears killed on Saturday, there is little doubt that a number of hunters had begun baiting days, if not weeks ahead of the hunt.
The fact of the matter is that had the hunters strictly played by the rules, the carnage would likely have been less. However, this continues to be the problem with the rationalization of hunters being touted as conservationists. Before we can even have an honest debate about this statement, there are a number of assumptions that must be made. Those assumptions are that hunters follow the rules; that honest governments collecting the revenue actually invest this into conservation programs (rather than pocketing the money); and that hunters truly target the oldest and the weakest. The reality is that none of these assumptions are true; and until they are, this will remain a moot discussion.

UNACCOUNTED FOR

On Saturday, a Kayaker sadly discovered a dead bear cub floating in the Suwannee River, a previously unreported casualty of this disaster of a bear hunt. So, let’s discuss these additional casualties and long term impact of this hunt.

Interestingly enough, some protestors of the bear hunt included those that traditionally hunt with dogs, referred to as “hounding”; and they actually view “still hunting” as unethical. Now, many will argue that hounding is equally unethical, however they do make one valid point. Under hounding, the dogs chase the bear up the tree. And from this angle, the hunter can determine the sex of the bear, whether she is lactating, the approximate weight; and the bear is unlikely to suffer as the shooting accuracy is much greater. In other words, it is less likely that an injured bear might escape, only to suffer and succumb to his injuries days or weeks later.

It could be argued that had hounding been implemented, there would have been fewer lactating mothers and cubs killed; and fewer injured bears yet to be found. The problem is, no one knows how many of those casualties may still exist in the wild. I would assume that hunters are required to report any bear shot but not found to the FWC. However, it is questionable whether this rule was followed or not.

Orphaned cubs, according to the FWC are capable of surviving on their own at about 8 months, and with an October hunt, most would have been 8 to 9 months old. Based upon the assumed 49 lactating mothers that were killed, and an average litter of 2.5 bear cubs (typical litter are two to three bear cubs), that would equate to approximately 123 orphaned cubs.

However, while cubs may have the ability to find food and survive on their own, a 70 or 80 pound cub would have a significantly less chance of surviving the attack of a 300 or 400 pound full grown male, than one with a mother there to defend him or her. So, there must be an assumption that the mortality rate of an orphaned cub is substantially higher than one protected by a mother bear. According to http://www.bear.org, the one-year survival rate of a litter of two bear is 88% and three bear is 82%, so an average of about 85%. Without a protective mother bear, the survival rate is certainly less than 85%.

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Additionally, within the last week, there has been an increase in bear sightings in residential neighborhoods, which of course, was completely expected by everyone; with apparent exception of the FWC. There are two reasons for this.

One, the young orphaned bears do not have the same level of foraging experience of their moms. The logical question must be posed as to why they normally stay with their mother for an average of eighteen months if they only require eight months? The answer is simple…that is the ideal period of time that mother nature had intended for these bear to have the best chance of survival.

Because these young bear do not have those years of foraging experience, they are likely to seek more readily available food sources like leftover food in unsecured trash cans. And even the FWC has noted: “Bears typically wander into residential areas because the food they can find there is high in calories and easy to get. Because black bears are “smart enough to be lazy” and take the path of least resistance – the neighborhood. They will spend a few hours in a neighborhood getting into trash cans, bird feeders, or gardens and get the same number of calories.”

Secondly, bear are intelligent animals and quite frankly, many now associate the forest with the carnage that took place last weekend; and now view the residential areas as safer environments. Unfortunately, this will result in further human – bear conflict, and an increase in bear fatalities through future vehicle collisions.

Additionally, the Politico Florida report indicated that 102 of the 170 bear killed were female. Again, using that ratio and applying to the 295 reportedly killed, this equates to a total number of female bear killed to be approximately 177. With an average of 2.5 cubs per litter, this means that there will be about 450 fewer bear cubs born in 2016…and 2017…and 2018. Simply put, any hunt will always have long-term negative implications of future population growth.

So, the official tally provided by the FWC is 295 bears. For reasons already addressed in this article, this figure appears to be suspiciously and artificially low. Add the unaccounted bears that were injured but never found, increase in orphaned cub mortality, increase in bear – human conflict, and loss of future offspring, what is the true death toll resulting from this bear hunt? And what is the long term impact? Whatever that answer is, it is significantly higher than the original target of 320 bear.

A HUNT WITH NO EXPLANATION

Perhaps the greatest anger, outrage and frustration of this bear hunt was in the fact that the FWC never provided an adequate explanation of the hunt in the first place. The Editorial Board of the News-Press.com labeled this hunt as “poorly conceived, poorly coordinated, poorly conducted and the end result was embarrassing for Florida.”

There is no question this is a black spot on the state of Florida. And because this hunt was conducted only three years after the Florida black bear was removed from the threatened species list, with no indicators of over-population issues, no reports of starving bear, an ample food supply and only a handful of isolated incidents of bear attacking humans (with most of those proven to be provoked by humans or human carelessness), this made national as well as international news.

blackbear

WHAT WENT WRONG

It would be simpler and easier to address what went right; because in truth, nothing went right, except that the FWC mercifully called a TKO after the second day of the hunt. However, most of the “wrongs” have already been covered in detail in this article, and the myriad of other articles that are now circulating. So “What Went Wrong” will consist of a simple list.

• The FWC consists of real estate developers, attorneys, ranchers and hunters. Not a single commissioner has experience in conservation or biology, and any on the job education obtained as commissioner has been offset by their conflicts of interest. The reality is that the majority of these commissioners would benefit financially if there were no Florida black bear, if there were no Florida Panther, and no other wildlife to stand in their way. Simply put, decisions made by the FWC are made to benefit the FWC commissioners and not the residents of Florida, and they are using the hunters as their pawns.

• The FWC produced a detailed Bear Management Plan in 2012, which was developed to ensure the black bear would never again become a threatened species. A hunting program was never addressed as part of this plan; and this recent hunt represents a significant step backward in what had been a great story of recovery of the black bear.

• Seventy five percent of Florida residents were opposed to this hunt; yet the FWC ignored that 75% of the population, and chose to side with a small minority of the hunting community.

• The FWC choose to move ahead with this hunt before final bear counts were even completed. The completion date was targeted for 2016. Why couldn’t the FWC wait one additional year and establish solid counts of the bear population, then make a decision?

• The FWC did not limit the number of permits sold for the bear hunt. Ultimately, there were 3,778 permits sold…enough to kill every black bear in the state. Obviously, that was not going to happen. However, the FWC certainly put themselves in a vulnerable position that, with a guaranteed two day hunt, the bear population could have been decimated beyond recovery.

• The $100 in-state permit fee and $300 out-of-state permit fees were so low, it failed to generate any significant revenue that truly could have been invested in bear conservation efforts. While many may believe $376,000 is a significant amount of money, it really is not. Charging $2,000 for in-state residents and $3,000 for out-of-state residents, and limiting the number of permits to 2,000 would have generated $5,000,000 in revenue (assuming an equal number of in-state and out-of-state residents). This is real money and could have gone toward a bear proof trash can subsidy program, further education of residents in bear country, and investment in over-passes or under-passes, allowing bear and panthers safe haven and access over busy highways.

• Additionally, more expensive permitting tends to draw in a more experienced hunting crowd. Because they are more experienced; they are less likely to shoot lactating mothers and less likely of shooting cubs. And if there are any ethics to be found in the hunting community, it certainly is more likely to come from the experienced hunters.

• By allowing an unlimited number of hunters, a compacted hunting period, and a two day guarantee, the FWC virtually assured themselves of an unmanageable hunt. Expanding the hunt into multiple weeks and limiting the number of hunters on any given day, this would have helped to manage the hunt count. This would have ensured that both the Eastern Panhandle and Central Florida bear counts remained in check. As it happened, the number of bears killed in the Eastern Panhandle were nearly triple the target and bears killed in the Central region exceeded that target by 40%.

• The FWC held the bear hunt in the first place. Aside from the mistakes referenced above, the simple fact is that there was no justification to even have the bear hunt. The FWC acknowledged that there was not an over-population issue. They acknowledged that natural food sources were ample. They acknowledged that the isolated incidents where bear actually attacked humans was due to human provocation. (Bears are very shy animals, and almost never initiate an unprovoked attack.)

The FWC acknowledged that the most effective way of controlling the human – bear conflict is to educate the public, and to place a greater emphasis of bear proof trash cans in bear country. Yet, the FWC ultimately justified the bear hunt on the basis that it would reduce the human – bear conflict, even though they acknowledged this bear hunt would not accomplish that goal. “We know this isn’t going to work but we are going to do it anyway” appeared to be the mantra of the FWC. Additionally, the majority of the bear killed were in Marion County, and deep in the Ocala National Forest. These were not even the bears that were creating the human-bear conflict in the first place

SO WHAT DID WE LEARN?

In the movie Burn After Reading, the final scene captured a conversation between the CIA Superior and one of his officers. The CIA Superior posed the question “What did we learn Palmer?” to which Palmer answered “I don’t know sir.” The Superior responded back “ I don’t bleeping know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.” The officer’s only response was “Yes sir”, to which the Superior commented “I’m bleeped if I know what we did.”

The majority of Florida’s citizens did not want this hunt in the first place. After the black eye that the FWC has inflicted upon the state with this embarrassing, unjustified disaster of a bear hunt, I only hope that the FWC will bow to the will of the people…and to common sense…and to intelligent conservation and also never have this hunt again.

However, this assumes that the people making the original decision to hold this hunt in the first place have now developed the knowledge and intelligence not to repeat this mistake. Unfortunately, the only way to ensure that this does not happen again would be to remove the entire Commission, and appoint members without conflicts of interest, and with the proper backgrounds and education necessary to make decisions that protect Florida’s wildlife and not destroy it.