Fla. Wildlife Commission Unveils Bear Management Plan

Up and down the state, there's a new kind of neighbor moving in. Big and burly, with a distinctive walk and a taste for your leftovers.

It's as sure a sign as any black bears are no longer the rare sight they used to be, and that's why the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's about to take them off the threatened species list.

A plan out Thursday aims to keep their numbers down, but it doesn't lift a nearly 40-year-old ban on bear hunting.

"We're willing throughout this process to listen to peoples' views about hunting or not hunting," said FWC executive director Nick Wiley. "That's going to be a part of the discussion. But, we're wanting to keep the focus on what's right to provide good, strong bear conservation."

Sportsmen want hunting to be part of that effort. They point to figures showing Florida black bears now number close to 3,000, and they argue it'll take more than moving them to keep them under control.

At one time, tens-of-thousands of bears roamed Florida's wild backwoods and country roads. They were never that big of a problem, but that was before our population began to boom, and today many of the areas they call home are also home to people and even pets.

"We go where the bears are, we go where the gators are..."

Bruce Gilreath and his dog, Maggie, have come across more than a couple black bears. They tend to be non-aggressive, but when they move into urban areas that can change.

Still, Bruce is happy Florida's not declaring open season.

"I think the resources ought to be in the catch and relocate," he said. "I mean, you've got one of the prettiest places on the planet, and we've all got to live together, you know, we're all in this thing together."

Right now, bears are teeming in central Florida and the Everglades. Under the plan, if that trend continues, bears might have to be moved to the big bend and western panhandle, where their numbers are lower.

From here, the FWC will hold public hearings on the proposed bear management plan. A vote on whether to implement it is scheduled for February.

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