Central Florida re-freezes bear hunting after first day sees 99% of season’s kill quota

© Jim Urquhart
Florida’s first bear hunt in decades has resulted in such a high bear death toll in Central Florida it will be the only region where the hunt will not resume on Sunday.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman, hunters in the region have already killed 99 bears – just one short of the 100-bear quota allowed for the area, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

By contrast, only 12 bears were killed in the north, and 15 in the south.

A total of 207 bears were killed across the state out of a total of 320 allowed under commission laws, the body says.

"The harvest objective was set as the number we want to achieve to stabilize the growing populations," Susan Smith said. "When we set them, we did so with allowable range, recognizing that the harvest may exceed the objective."

The hunt itself is a controversial endeavour. News of its resumption for the first time since 1972 was greeted with protests and lawsuits. That hasn’t stopped it, with some 3,778 hunting permits issued by the state on Friday, over 1,000 of which were issued to Central Florida hunters. Each permit allows one kill.

One organization behind an unsuccessful lawsuit, Speak Up Wekiva, set up presence at check-in posts over the weekend to observe the hunt, along with law enforcement. The organization urged authorities late Saturday to abandon this year’s hunt.

The check-in posts is where a hunter registers the kill. There are 33 in total, and hunters have 12 hours to haul the animal to a post after the kill.

Despite the controversy, many hunters with decades of experience stand by the hunt, arguing that bear numbers are vast, and that they are becoming a nuisance to the locals.

"They [protesters] can't rule what everybody else wants. The protesters, in my opinion, are the vast minority of people. They're not hunters. They live in the city. They probably wouldn't even want to go out in the woods, you know?,” Paul Palmer, 71, told the Sentinel.

But some scenes continue to cause distress with those who are against the practice. The first bear to go on Saturday was a lactating female.

"Now there are one or two babies alone so she [the hunter] can have a trophy on her wall," said Astevia Willett, 53, of Largo. Willett was one of the monitors. However, the FWC emphasized the fact that the hunt was timed in such a way that the newborns would be at least 8-9 months old, which is old enough to survive on their own.