After just two days, Florida ended its controversial black bear hunt because a higher than expected number of bears had been killed.
Wildlife authorities said late on Sunday that 295 bears were taken overall, nearing the official limit.
The Florida fish and wildlife conservation commission (FWC) posted a statement on its website saying it had closed the 2015 hunt because it was approaching an agency “objective” of 320 bears overall. “The 2015 bear hunt is officially over,” the statement said.
Wildlife officials had already shut down hunting in designated central and east Panhandle regions of Florida after the first day, Saturday.
They said 112 bears were killed in the Panhandle region at last count, nearly triple the 40 kill limit for that area. In the central region, 139 bears were killed, it said.
The agency’s statement added that 23 bears were taken in the north unit at last count and 21 bears in the south unit before those final two areas were closed on Sunday to hunting.
“From a biological sustainable population perspective, none of these numbers are worrisome to us. We have large growing bear populations,” said the FWC’s Thomas Eason, speaking on Sunday before the overall hunt had ended.
The statement late on Sunday said additional north and south units were closed to hunting after the second day, meaning hunting had ended in all four “bear management units” were it was allowed.
Authorities said they were not alarmed by the numbers, saying the figures suggested the bear population was higher than they thought. The hunt was approved earlier this year after considerable and contentious debate.
Backers estimated Florida’s black bear population had grown to 3,500 – from a few hundred in the 1970s. But opponents challenged those numbers.
More than 30 states allow bear hunting in some form, officials said.
Earlier on Sunday, the agency’s executive director, Nick Wiley, said the agency closely monitored the numbers of bears taken and was already leaning toward ending the hunt after two days.
The agency’s subsequent statement late on Sunday said the agency “took a conservative approach … building in buffers so the number of bears harvested would stabilize growing populations while ensuring a continuation of healthy bear numbers”.
More than 3,200 hunters purchased permits to participate, including 1970s rocker Ted Nugent and Liesa Priddy, a rancher and FWC member who voted to approve the new hunts.
Backers of the hunt said growing numbers of bears presented a safety problem, as close encounters with bears made headlines in recent months. Activists have argued that the state should instead focus on curbing nuisance bears and assuring safety through trash management and other means. Opponents of the hunt staged protests around the state over the weekend.
Officials set up 33 stations where hunters were required to record each kill within 12 hours, with some of the last stations to remain open until noon on Monday.
Hunters were prohibited from using dogs or bait to lure the bears, and could only kill bears weighing more than 100lb, among other restrictions.
Among the weapons allowed were shotguns, bows, pistols, revolvers and crossbows.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 26 Oct 2015. Lead Image: Encounters between humans and black bears are on the rise in Florida, and state officials say a limited hunting season could help control the bear population. Photograph by Carlton Ward Jr.
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