The Florida black bear population has increased from as few as 300 bears in the 1970s to more than 3,000 bears today, and now the draft plan that will guide continued conservation of this species has been revised by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
The revised draft Black Bear Management Plan is available online at MyFWC.com/Bear and is ready for public input. It incorporates previous public feedback on the nearly 200-page draft plan released last November. The public is invited to comment on the revised draft plan through June 1.
About 2,500 public comments were received on the original draft plan, which establishes for the first time a statewide framework to manage Florida black bears to ensure they are never again at high risk of extinction. Public workshops on the draft plan were held in four cities, in addition to the opportunity for people to comment online and by email or regular mail.
Last February, FWC Commissioners directed staff to further refine and revise the draft plan and give careful consideration to stakeholder and public input. At their upcoming June meeting, the Commissioners are scheduled to consider approval of the revised draft plan.
Once the plan receives final approval, the black bear will no longer be on the state’s list of threatened species. The bear currently does not meet the criteria of being at high risk of extinction, based on a 2011 Biological Status Review.
In June, the Commission also will consider a new FWC rule making it unlawful to injure or kill bears, protections similar to the ones granted to bears as a threatened species. The proposed rule additionally affirms the FWC will work with landowners and regulating agencies to guide future land use to be compatible with objectives of the bear plan. That proposed rule, as well as an FWC rule change to remove the bear from the state’s threatened species list, is currently being advertised in the Florida Administrative Weekly.
Seven black bear management units (BMUs) would be created under the plan to involve local citizens and stakeholder groups in the management of specific bear populations and habitats.
The black bear is among 62 wildlife species that soon will join the list of Florida species, like the bald eagle, already under an FWC management plan. Florida’s new threatened species conservation model requires that management plans will be created for all species that have been state-listed and updated at specified intervals. The management plans give citizens an active role in Florida’s efforts to conserve its diverse wildlife for future generations.