Twelve state lawmakers sent a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) executive director Nick Wiley this week, urging him to consider allowing limited bear hunting in some parts of Florida. The request comes after two headline-grabbing bear attacks in the state, including one incident earlier this month in which a woman was dragged from her garage by a black bear.
“What I’m concerned about mainly is that this continues to happen without intervention and the bears walk up on children who are playing and drag them off into the woods,” State Representative Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) told The Orlando Sentinel.
Terri Frana, 45, was retrieving bikes from her garage on April 12 when she encountered a group of bears outside her Lake Mary home—wildlife officials believe that the bears were there to scrounge food from the family trash. The encounter took a turn for the worse when one of the animals began mauling Frana. She was able to escape and seek shelter inside the house, suffering bite and scratch marks to her head, arms, and shoulders.
The attack on Frana came months after what officials called the worst bear mauling in the state’s history. Last December, Susan Chalfant, 54, was walking her two small dogs in Longwood when a young black bear knocked her down. Chalfant was found by bystanders and rushed to a hospital with severe facial injuries.
The FWC has been working in the last few weeks to track down the bears that attacked Frana, which has led to the capture and euthanization of five black bears that had grown too accustomed to human contact. In the letter sent to Wiley, lawmakers pushed for increased bear safety education, steps to put more bear-proof containers in neighborhoods, and a limited hunting season in certain “hot spots.”
“If there was limited harvesting done there, it would ease pressure on the area and bears would flow more to the north,” Brodeur told WESH-TV.
Florida banned bear hunting in 1994 due to a swift decline in the state’s black bear population. The animal was considered a threatened species as early as 1974, when there were less than 300 bears still roaming the state. By 2014, biologists estimated that the population increased tenfold to over 3,000.
FWC director Wiley said that he is considering the lawmakers’ suggestions and noted that management hunts can be a useful tool.
“I saw the letter as helpful,” he stated. “They offered up a broad range of ideas they thought were really important for us to consider.”
Other legislators and some animal advocacy groups say that hunting is not the answer. Critics say that it is not Florida’s number of bears—which is lower than some other states—that is the problem, but rather how people come into contact with the animals. Both sides agree that bear safety awareness is vital for people living in bear territory.