Florida’s controversial bear hunt begins this Saturday, opening its black bear season for the first time in over two decades. Animal rights advocates and protesters have tried repeatedly to delay or cancel the hunt, including a failed appeal to a state judge to shut the hunt down on the grounds that the species has not yet recovered fully. After the judge ruled in favor of allowing the hunt to proceed as planned, activists vowed to use other methods—and it seems that one of those methods involves nearly every one of the 3,200 hunters who purchased a bear permit.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that activist groups easily obtained the emails since hunting licences, like many other documents, are considered public record in the Sunshine State. Some hunters have already reported receiving emails either encouraging them to skip the hunt, or attacking them for taking part in the season.
Many hunters did not know that the information on their licenses was a matter of public record and are understandably upset, but wildlife officials say that under state law, that information must be provided to anyone who asks.
“We have to provide it,” says Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) executive director Nick Wiley, although he added that legislators could change the law to make hunting licenses an exception.
“It may lead to questions about, ‘Is this something that should be an open record?'” he told the Times.
Wiley said the agency is already receiving complaints from hunters who feel targeted. Activist groups such as Speak Up Wekiva said they planned to hold protests in several cities to coincide with the bear hunt, which will end in a week from Saturday or when 320 bears are harvested, whichever comes first.
Bears were once threatened in Florida, but a lengthy and widespread conservation effort brought the state population back into a range that biologists believe is sustainable. A conservative estimate of the bear population puts it at around 3,200 to 3,500 animals, although some believe the actual number is much higher. Bear encounters are now more frequent in the state, and a recent spree of bear attacks has galvanized public interest in a hunt.
“Hunting’s a good tool to stabilize populations because it’s really the only effective tool we have for managing these growing populations at large scale,” FWC Hunting and Game Management division director Diane Eggeman told the Associated Press.