Despite public protest, wildlife officials in Florida concluded on Wednesday that black bear populations in the state were large enough to allow the second hunting season in more than 20 years.
The state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is set to meet again in June to mull over decisions on how the bear hunt could be managed.
"There is a process of how the hunt is set up, what the quota objectives are," said FWC Chair Brian Yablonski. "There's a ton of options out there."
Bear hunts in the state ended in the 1990s, and were only returned in October 2015 after the FWC approved a controlled hunting of 320 black bears.
The reason for last year's hunt was the growing presence of black bears in the suburbs.
Black bears are creatures that enjoy eating the contents of trash cans. Many of the animals raided garbage, and four even interacted directly with humans.
Are Black Bears Endangered Species?
The commission's official population count of adult black bears at the time of the 2015 hunt was at 3,500.
In March this year, FWC bear researcher Walter McCown said the population is now at 4,350, which exceeds the commission's 2015 estimate by 24 percent.
The number may seem robust enough to justify the 2016 bear hunt, but a nonprofit wildlife conservationist group known as the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has said the population growth in the state does not bode well for the animals.
CBD Florida Director Jaclyn Lopez said the impact of development and growth factors in Florida must be accounted for in considering whether black bears are endangered.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to stop the hunt in 2015, but to no avail. Some groups brought the matter to the court, but they were only able to reach a ruling that said the seven-day hunt could be interrupted if the quota was met in less than the expected time.
The CBD has issued a recent petition to declare black bears as endangered species. If successful, it would prohibit hunting and any activity that would lessen the animal's population in Florida.
However, the FWC sees declaring black bears as threatened species as an unnecessary precaution.
A spokesperson for the commission said extensive field surveys performed last year, as well as in-depth scientific analysis, showed rising numbers in the population of adult black bears.
Even so, public outcry is also insistent. Laura Bevan, southern region director for the Humane Society of the United States, told the Christian Science Monitor that the October hunt did not deal with problem bears, but with bears in the woods.
"Problem bears in human areas are already dealt with harshly by officials," said Bevan.
Most of the bears killed in the October hunt were slain in private property, near feeding stations arranged by hunters to lure the bears in, Bevan explained.
Official regulations state that hunters are not allowed to kill bears whose heads are still in the feeding basket, but anything goes when nobody's watching.
"We don't even like calling it a hunt," added Bevan.
Along with Bevan, Tracy Coppola of Humane Society of U.S. believes trophy hunting is not a solution to alleviate the rising population of bears in Florida.
Coppola said the best way for concerned residents to help wildlife conservation efforts is by speaking out and being vocal about their state's management initiatives.
Bevan said, although Florida saw an increase in black bear population, the state has yet to teach residents to co-exist with the animals.
Bevan and Coppola mentioned the efficacy of bear-proof trash cans to deter bears from raiding them. This is already implemented in Western states.
"We've basically invited the bears to dinner," added Bevan.
Photo : D. Griebeling | Flickr