Good News, Bears! No Hunting for You in Florida this Year

By Dan Sweeney |

no-bear-hunt-2017In a surprise move, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 late Wednesday to hold off on having a second bear hunt later this year.

The vote marks a major change from last year, when the wildlife commissioners voted 6-1 to go ahead with Florida’s first bear hunt in 21 years, which was held in October despite strong public opposition.

The change in attitude was made more remarkable by the venue for Wednesday’s all-day meeting, the tiny Panhandle town of Eastpoint, where two of Florida’s five bear attacks on humans have occurred. Commission executive director Nick Wiley said that was just a coincidence.

In fact, the first speaker during the public hearing was the mother of one of the two mauling victims. She was very much in favor of a second hunt.

Leading the charge for the delay, however, was Commissioner Ron Bergeron, who was the lone no vote last year. Bergeron, who lives in Broward County, is a builder, developer and avid outdoorsman who once got in trouble for wrestling an alligator.

“We have to do what’s best for the bears,” he said, urging the staff to provide scientific answers to some of the questions raised during the hearing, as well as seeing how better garbage-can management and habitat protection may work out.

He said he wanted to ensure the state was allowing the hunting of bears that were excess to the habitat, not just allowing hunting for the sake of hunting.

The debate over whether to hold a second hunt drew more than 100 people to a high school gym in Eastpoint, which has a population of about 2,000. The bear hunt discussion began about 10 a.m. and, with a 90-minute lunch break, continued until the final vote at 8:15 p.m.

Last October’s hunt was scheduled to last a week. The hunt ended abruptly after just two days. Hunters had killed 304 of the 321 bears allowed, and wildlife officials feared they might exceed the quota.

The hunt generated tremendous controversy, with a large majority of those who commented on the proposal opposing it.

Further fueling the controversy was the fact that hunters killed 36 lactating females, which hunt opponents said meant they had left orphaned cubs that would die, too. Wildlife commission biologists said the cubs would be old enough to survive.

Elizabeth Fleming of Defenders of Wildlife, who had urged commissioners to hold off on a second hunt for a year, said the way the first hunt went had hurt the agency’s credibility.

By waiting a year, the commissioners showed that they are listing to the public and paying attention to the need for other measures to deal with the bear population, Fleming said.

The commission staff offered four options. One was to hold another hunt exactly like the one last fall. Another called for banning all bear hunting, as was the case prior to 1994. A third, supported by the Florida Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife and other environmental groups, was to skip a 2016 hunt to give more in-depth scientific studies and other measures more time.

The fourth alternative, recommended by the commission staff, was to hold a hunt but to make it far more limited than last year’s. For instance, the hunt would be split up into three “phases” of a few days each, and hunters would be limited to only participating in one phase.

That proposal drew support from vice chairwoman Liesa Priddy, who bought a bear hunting permit last year but did not use it, and two other commissioners.

In the end, the deciding vote came from chairman Brian Yablonski, a utility lobbyist who co-wrote a book with former Gov. Jeb Bush. Yablonski said he felt good about the science that the staff had used in recommending a second hunt, but “we as commissioners don’t have to make decisions based solely on science.” As a policy matter, a pause made sense, he said.

Wednesday’s daylong discussion lacked the circus-like atmosphere of last year’s commission meetings on the topic. No one dressed as a bear this time around. Instead, opponents of a second hunt focused mostly on raising questions about the first one and urging a delay, not an outright hunting ban.

The speakers included 11-year-old Chloe Diefenbaugh of Palm Harbor, who urged a delay so the commissioners can see whether new, improved garbage cans can put a stop to bears marauding through suburban areas.

Fleming said she’s sure that next year the commissioners will be even more determined to schedule a hunt for 2017.

Craig Pittman can be reached at Follow @CraigTimes.




  1. Mary Shabbott July 1, 2016 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you for being a voice for our bears!!

  2. Karen lueck July 1, 2016 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    Thank you for siding with the bears and against the hunt.

  3. donnalee hilden July 1, 2016 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    thank you so much for not killing off floridas wildlife this year, I hope all hunting is banned forever. The animals live in the woods, that is their home. please continue to let them live in peace/ thank you

  4. Shirlene Stuckey July 1, 2016 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    I did not trust Commissioner Bergeron’s “No”vote last year, but after the meeting in East Point last week, respect for his perceptiveness and wisdom is growing in my estimation of him. He asked the necessary questions, and would not permit evasion or dissemblance. I am grateful to Commissioner Bergeron, Commissioner Rivard, Commissioner Spottswood, and Commissioner Yablonski for listening to hours of comments from the public, and making a well informed, well thought out decision

  5. Summer Relken July 1, 2016 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    Thank you Commissioner Ron Bergeron. It is people like you that we need to keep Florida a beautiful, wild place. Our children need to see these magnificent animals and all the beauty Fl has to offer. Thank you!!

  6. Val Collins July 1, 2016 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your principled stand against the bear hunt of last year. Your decision is something that will stand the test of time!! I am a 65 year old who loves Florida and volunteers at a a county nature preserve. As you know many people have signed petitions against the hunt. The iconic Florida bear deserves better as you know than being a trophy which is a small vocal minority. Thank you again

  7. Linda Herod July 1, 2016 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for preserving our natural Florida heritage. I hope that we can discontinue these hunts entirely forever, but I will except one year at a time. Again, thanks

  8. Ruth Marie Wise July 1, 2016 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for what you did for Florida bears. Everyone needs to realize how precious our wild animals and wild places are and protect them.

  9. Rebecca DeWinter July 1, 2016 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have renewed my faith in humanity, Commissioner Bergeron. I watched the meeting in its entirety, and felt that your input was well thought out, objective, and point on. You evaluated everything in depth, and considered past violations and possible negative repercussions to a hunt. I have been almost a life long resident of South Florida, involved with construction, land development and real estate. I know first hand how our indiginous animals have only been given consideration when mandated by law. Thousands of acres of their habitat has been cleared and developed in the name of progress. This is understandable. However, the bears and other threatened species don’t have the luxury of holding this same persoective. Let’s get the tamper proof trash cans and we will see how everyone will get along without conflict, or a minimum of it. Thank you commissioner for taking an intellegent and ethical stand for those with no voice!

  10. Nina July 1, 2016 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for keeping these majestic creatures safe for this year. We must continue our battle to preserve their habitats in addition to preventing future hunts. The world is not the exclusive domain of humans. Wildlife deserves to thrive.

  11. Sammy Sharon McLauchlin July 1, 2016 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much!!!

  12. Patty Overly July 1, 2016 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for doing the right thing!

  13. Kay Haering July 2, 2016 at 12:14 am - Reply

    Good job Commissioners! Your Compassion is so appreciated! You had a choice- but you made a kind choice!

  14. Becki furman July 2, 2016 at 12:47 am - Reply

    Thank For saving the bears .. thank u for all your hard work 🙂

  15. Top Fishing Club July 3, 2017 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    Thanks very interesting blog!

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