A Florida black bear lounges in a tree across the street from Adventure Island in Tampa on Tuesday. It was tranquilized and removed by state wildlife officials. All of this happened on the eve of the vote on whether Florida would host a second annual bear hunt. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 to put off the hunt for a year to gather more information.
This bear had some seriously bad timing.
A 250-pound Florida black bear turned up this week where he should not have — in a densely populated Tampa neighborhood near the Adventure Island water park. He was darted with tranquilizers and summarily taken away to a more bear-friendly place.
All of which happened on the eve of a big vote on whether our state would host the second annual brutal bear hunt.
Things did not look good for the bears.
But even with a fresh bear there to illustrate the problem of too much development and not enough habitat for a bear population that has bounced back, state wildlife officials managed to make a good call late Wednesday. By a whisker, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 to put off another sanctioned Florida bear hunt for a year to gather more information.
Impressively, FWC Commissioner “Alligator Ron” Bergeron — and no I did not make that up — said he wanted, among other things, to makes sure the hunt was about too many bears and not just hunting.
Score one for the bears.
Last year was a bleaker picture. Despite exceedingly vocal opposition from the people who populate this state, the FWC authorized a hunt that took down 304 bears in only two days. This included 36 mother bears who had recently been nursing cubs.
Though our bears were once considered for the federal endangered species list, the population has increased to more than 4,000 as of last year — to the point that we have too many nuisance bears and too many potential interactions with people, the argument goes.
Nuisance bears? How about nuisance humans with their all-too-available garbage? How about the nuisance paving over of too much wildlife habitat in this state?
With last year’s vote, Bear Hunt 2016: The Sequel, seemed inevitable. And notably, as the Tampa Bay Times‘ Craig Pittman reported, organizers decided to hold this year’s meeting in a teensy Panhandle town in which two of Florida’s five bear attacks occurred between 2013 and 2015.
But really, that was completely a coincidence.
The surprise reprieve is good news for bears and also for people who want to keep as much of the good in our state as we can. It gives us a chance to talk solutions, like putting bear-proof garbage cans in places they’re needed to keep animals from scavenging too close to humans. It lets us consider ideas like buffer zones between places bears already roam and new housing or retail developments. (On ideas like this, expect boos from powerful developers and also Gov. Rick Scott, who at times seems like he would not mind if Florida were paved in suburbs, strip malls and skyscrapers from Key West to the Georgia line.)
As for this week’s appearance by that bear near Busch Gardens?
No, he was not here for a roller coaster ride or a water slide, despite our Disneyesque tendency to see them as human-ish rather than wild animals to be respected. But his startling presence in a city neighborhood between busy streets on the eve of that bear hunt vote illustrates how we need ideas beyond killing them.
Maybe his timing wasn’t so bad after all.
Sue Carlton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.