State of Florida Should Manage Black Bear Population, not Everyday Floridians

State of Florida Should Manage Black Bear Population, not Everyday Floridians

June 6, 2024

By William Mukaskey, Hunter and Conservationist

Florida is no stranger to wildlife. Some of these species are extremely dangerous and have caused safety concerns for families. Despite the Legislature’s reckless bill, HB 87, Florida’s black bears are not in the category of inherently ‘dangerous’ species. While killing a bear in self-defense is already very much legal, this new bill, hastily passed and now headed to the Governor’s desk, green-lights the ability to kill black bears without requiring any proof or evidence that they were even a threat to people or pets. In its enactment, HB 87 would present an entirely new safety problem for communities as well as an irresponsible approach to wildlife management.

While it is already within the bounds of the law to kill a bear that might present harm to a person or pet, it is also true that in any given black bear encounter, the threat of danger is very rare. In fact, bear-human interactions in general are few and far between, and reports of ‘encounters’ look more like a bear wandering into someone’s yard, trying to find a free meal in their trash, or sleeping in their tree

There is, however, the potential for danger if HB 87 allows citizens to open fire around their homes and neighborhoods at just the sight of any black bear. The chances that a person or pet is harmed due to a firearm accident in a residential area while trying to shoot a black bear is much more likely than that bear causing bodily harm.

I know a lot of hunters in Florida who practice ethical judgment, are well-trained with a gun, and understand the importance of firearm and wildlife safety. I will be clear on this– HB 87 is not a pro-hunting or a pro-safety bill. Instead, this bill actually undermines hunters who know and practice responsible hunting laws and safety precautions and provides a greater risk of harm to communities by promoting the discharge of firearms, whether the people firing them are trained on safety procedures or not.

The management of Florida’s black bears should not be on the shoulders of citizens. Our state has an agency, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), that is specifically dedicated and equipped to handle bear management and wildlife encounters.

The Legislature should have provided FWC with resources to work with residents to keep bears off of properties and under control. At a minimum, the Legislature could have asked for a study or statistics from FWC, but that didn’t happen.

Now the issue is with Governor DeSantis, and I urge him to veto HB 87 in order to protect our communities from preventable firearm incidents, to spare Florida citizens the dangers of managing wildlife themselves, and to approach the handling of nonthreatening black bears with a better, more thoughtful, and effective plan.

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