Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Animal Advocates Go to Court to Stop Bear Hunt

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Wildlife advocates are going before Florida's 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee today to ask Judge George Reynolds to halt Florida's first bear hunt in 21 years.

Speak Up Wekiva, Inc. is a small group of volunteers who filed a lawsuit against the FWC to stop the ill-conceived and unscientific hunt of the Florida Black Bear.

The organization Speak Up Wekiva, named for the Wekiva River and nearby Wekiva Springs in Seminole County, says it is suing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission because the agency is not living up to its constitutional mandate to protect wildlife. 

The founder of Speak Up Wekiva, Chuck O'Neal, says the hunt is only supposed to allow 320 bears to be killed. But 2,200 hunting permits have been sold, and the hunt is set to run for a minimum of 48 hours, regardless of how many bears are killed.

"If 500 bears are killed on the first day, they can still not call the hunt," he says. "We do not believe this is a prudent course of action considering the black bear was on the threatened list as recently as 2012."

The hunt comes in response to three maulings in Seminole County and a surge of complaints about bears roaming suburban neighborhoods. The Fish and Wildlife Commission estimates there are 3,100 bears in the state.

O'Neal says the state caused the problem by selling permits, up until June of this year, for residents to harvest saw palmetto berries - which cut off the bears' food source.

"There aren't necessarily more bears than there used to be. It's just they have been pushed out of the forest," he says. "The smart thing to do is to restore their natural food supply in the forest and bear-proof trash cans in neighboring suburbia."

The bear hunt is scheduled to begin Oct. 24.

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