A few days ago, we were invited by Adam and Wendy Sugalski, prominent Florida Black Bear defenders, to travel to Jacksonville, Florida to lend support against the planned 2016 bear trophy hunt. The previous hunt in 2015 was an unmitigated conservation disaster as it was based on poor scientific information, was a poorly regulated exercise, has not been adequately evaluated to determine any consequence and was driven by vested interest groups with close connections to the Florida Fish and Wildlife “Conservation” Commission (FWC).
Please read my earlier blog on this issue.
And please read this follow-up blog in entirety. LionAid has been dealing with trophy hunting issues for many years, and while we might not have known much about Florida Black Bear trophy hunting in the past, we found ourselves on very familiar territory. Trophy hunting of species around the world is driven by special interest groups, ignores public opinion in favour of those who can influence politics via insider connections, is a scientifically poor but vested interest rich activity and is supported by corrupt practices.
Tomorrow (June 22nd) the FWC will hold a public meeting in Eastpoint, Florida to “discuss” the 2016 bear trophy hunt. It would seem that this meeting is going to be another whitewash as the deck has already been stacked to allow the hunt. Let’s just have a look at the background moves to see how the FWC has pre-arranged the outcome:
1. The FWC has seven Commissioners, all appointed by Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott. They need not have any wildlife or conservation knowledge or experience. The Chairman, Brian Yablonski according to the FWC is a hunter and is alleged to be a climate change denier, and is a Republican Party donor. The vice chairman is Aliesa Priddy, a cattle rancher and a Republican Party donor and it seems wants to introduce trophy hunting for highly endangered Florida Panthers. Ron Bergeron seems to be the lone voice against bear hunting, and a lone voice in demanding good science. Richard Hanas is a land developer and donor to the Republican Party. Bo Rivard is a former fast food franchise owner and a Republican Party donor. Charles Roberts has a history of environmental regulation violations and is a Republican Party donor. Robert Spotfswood is a land developer and a Republican Party donor. Get the trend?
2. The FWC has appointed a “panel” of “leading bear experts” to advise on the 2016 bear trophy hunt. These “experts” are supposed to have over 107 years of cumulative experience, but it is clear that the FWC has “cherry-picked” this panel. The seven “experts” chosen recently signed a letter to support the 2016 Florida bear trophy hunt, stating that:
“Regulated hunting is an effective tool that is widely used to manage, conserve, and sustain black bear populations, which is supported by the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. We unanimously concur that hunting is an appropriate response to address human–bear conflicts in Florida, in addition to the conflict-specific mitigation and prevention measures currently implemented by FWC. “
These “experts” are all drawn from various State wildlife management organizations (none from Florida) and have experience in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Tennessee, Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina and Maine. At least one of them, Craig McLaughlin, cautioned in the past that “control of hunting pressure is the most important management need [for Black Bears]” but has now apparently been drawn into the trophy hunting fold . Instead of choosing this panel supporting bear hunting, the FWC should have sought a much more diverse and balanced input.
3. A presentation will be made at the June 22nd “public” meeting by Thomas Eason and Diane Eggerman of the FWC. During this presentation they will make the following points:
- Bears killed by motor vehicles per year amount to an average of 296 over the past five years. In addition, an average of 34 bears have been killed/euthanized over the past three years. My comment – this mortality has not been factored into the “need” to trophy hunt bears, but accounts for about 10% of the Florida Black Bear population.
- Bear conflict management by the FWC amounted to $220,000 over the past TEN years for 12 Florida Counties, or about $22,000 per year, and on average $1,833 per County. My comment – this ludicrously small input into preventing Human-Bear Conflict, specifically meant to educate people on bear conflicts and ensure that waste disposal and deploying bear-proof garbage containers has been a massive failure.
- A project to radiocollar female bears and to determine litter size, cub, juvenile and adult survival will only be completed in 2019. My comment – this relatively small project located in only one small area of Florida should nevertheless provide guidance to any HBC discussion. No bears should be hunted before the results of this project are assessed, and a moratorium on future bear trophy hunts should be put in place until at least 2019. Meanwhile, a publication by the University of Florida on Florida Black bear demographics mentioned that bear cub survival to 9 months was only 46% in the absence of trophy hunting.
- Now, a total of $825,000 will be made available to reduce HBC. My comment - this funding should be allowed to be applied and utilized BEFORE any further trophy hunting opportunities are delivered. After all, alternative methods should be carefully considered and evaluated BEFORE any resumption of vested interest trophy hunting. Bear trophy hunting as a means of “population control” should be a method of last resort rather than a method of choice to reduce HBC.
The FWC has been exposed to bow to special interest groups and not be representative of public opinion. Indeed, the Eastpoint meeting will be carefully regulated by a highly biased FWC to afford opponents to the hunt a few precious minutes to state their cases. The outcome seems pre-determined for all the reasons stated above.
The FWC seems determined to ignore a recent public protest against bear trophy hunting organized by Adam and Wendy Sugalski across 28 Florida cities on the 18th June. Turnout and public support was massive and needs to be recognized by the FWC. The FWC can ignore public opinion for only so long and at their jeopardy. The FWC can ignore science (while recruiting only those who support bear hunting) at risk of public support . The FWC is accountable to the public and must take their responsibilities seriously to ensure that their role in maintaining Florida’s wildlife estate is guided by the best science, independent experts and the least invasive policies.
In conclusion, I mentioned above that the LionAid visit to Florida encountered all the familiar ground we have experienced whenever trophy hunting as a “conservation” measure is put forward. Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service enacted severe restrictions on lion trophy imports into the USA by demanding that such trophy hunting should be shown to BENEFIT the conservation of the species in Africa. It is high time that the State of Florida enacts similar demands on the FWC – Black Bear trophy hunts should be shown to enhance the conservation of the species, and before resorting to trophy hunts to control Human/Bear conflict all other measures should be diligently and responsibly considered.
Picture credit: Inquisitor. com