Congratulations to all in Florida who worked tirelessly to oppose the planned 2016 bear trophy hunt!
Yesterday the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioners voted 4-3 to cancel this hunt and vote for “Option 3” on their list of alternatives. While the bears have been given a reprieve, let’s not let down our guard.
“Option 3” clearly states the following: “Not holding a 2016 bear hunt will give the FWC more time to work with stakeholders, local communities and the public to DEVELOP THE IMPORTANT ROLE HUNTING PLAYS IN FLORIDA’S COMPREHENSIVE BEAR MANAGEMENT PROGRAM” (capitals mine). In other words, bear trophy hunts are still very much on the cards, and the FWC will be pushing their hunting programme with increased vigour after this vote.
Therefore, I would advise all those who won the day yesterday to apply increased vigour to avoid any future trophy hunts. Just as an initial campaign strategy, I would suggest emphasis on the following:
1. The FWC Commissioners are all appointed by Florida Governor Rick Scott. However, it is clear that the appointees hardly represent the diversity of Florida’s population. The current commissioners are all Republicans, white, and six of the seven are males. This is well out of step with the diversity represented in Florida where 14% are Hispanic, 13% Black and 2% Asian. Also, in terms of voter registration, 4.4 million are Republicans and 4.6 million are Democrats. One of the Commissioners who voted for the 2016 bear hunt was Charles Roberts III – his term on the Commission will expire in August 2016. Floridians should strongly lobby Governor Scott to replace Roberts with at least a female Democrat, preferably of Black/Hispanic origin to begin to even out the highly unrepresentative body that is now the FWC Commission.
2. Despite the highly self-congratulatory depositions rendered by Dr Eason and Ms Eggeman of the FWC, the Florida Black Bear hunt of 2015 was an unmitigated disaster. Quotas were exceeded by 248% in one area of four, 20% of the bears shot were lactating females, and many bears were below the 100lb legal limit. In addition, the desire to include hunting in a “bear management program” was heavily criticised as there were too many variables included in bear management to be able to decide which ones contributed best to reduce Human-Bear Conflict (HBC). Now, with the trophy bear hunts on hold, the large sum of $825,000 to reduce HBC via public education (the Bear Wise initiative) and trash and waste management will be put in place. This programme should be allowed time to be evaluated at least over a period of several years before any contemplation of resuming a bear trophy hunt so 2017 is premature. Bear hunting, it should be carefully noted, has NEVER been shown to reduce HBC.
3. The Florida FWC should distance itself from bear hunting as a means of bear population management. In other words, they should abandon their knee-jerk support of trophy hunting promoted by a small minority of vested-interest supporters. If the FWC wants to engage in reducing HBC, hunting is not the answer. A constant campaign should be put in place to reject the false science promoted by the FWC in favour of the many non-lethal options available. The FWC should also be asked the simple question: what is the ultimate goal of the FWC in terms of bear conservation? Reducing HBC or providing hunting opportunities?
4. A campaign should be initiated immediately to lobby additional Counties in Florida to oppose any bear hunting within their constituencies. The Counties can be a significant and important force to gain opposition at the local level to oppose bear hunts. In a similar vein, Congressional districts will hold elections in 2016 and conservation of Florida’s wildlife should be an important measure to determine electability of candidates.
5. Get some celebrities on board. Organize public events on the issue of bears, and provide outreach to engage schools in non-lethal bear conservation initiatives. Engage the Native American community in Florida to lend their support to bear conservation.
So overall, the “Option 3” vote by the Commission should be a call to arms after a deserved celebration. Stong follow-ups are needed, and let’s start now.
picture credit – Adam Sugalski