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Not right to bear arms: Bear hunts are not the answer

A man and his two-year-old daughter watch a black bear next to their house in Holly Hill, Florida. (Photo: National Geographic)

Florida is jumping the gun on considering reopening bear hunts across the state.

As humans move deeper and deeper into the forests, building more cookie-cutter communities and condos, we are moving into Yogi’s backyard. When that happens, there start to be more bear-human interactions. Sometimes these interactions don’t end well for the human, but most of the time, they don’t end well for the bear.

After a few run-ins with bears  recently across the state, including the Estero bear that hung around for a few weeks before being put down, the state is considering reopening bear hunts to “control the population.”

Read: Estero bear captured, to be put down

This all comes after a 20-year hunting ban that was put in place to help the Florida black bear bounce back from a population low enough to have its name scribbled on the threatened species list. With the numbers of bears across the state appearing to rise, people want them out.

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Meanwhile, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission can’t even say how many of them are even out there. The debate rages on despite an unfinished population study of the once threatened species.

Ever think there may be more black bears present, not because of an over-population, but an overexpansion of our communities? Maybe there are seemingly more black bears out there to “bother us” because they have fewer places to go.

Let me tell you, hunts are not the answer. There are more ways to deal with this issue, and it starts with us.

The answer is educating people on how to live with these creatures.

It baffles me that people living in bear country complain about the presence of bears. That’s like moving to New York City and complaining about too many Yankees fans. Pal, look where you moved.

If you live in an area where bears have (or once had) a presence, learn how to live with these animals. Garbage is the biggest attraction for a curious Yogi. We need something like a state-mandated bear-proof garbage bins  for those living in bear country or issuing a fine to those who do not properly secure their garbage.

Also, we’ve got to stop taking the food source away from these guys. The black bear depends heavily on saw palmetto berries as a food source, and we’re taking that away from them, too. Present policy permits intensive picking of saw palmetto berries in Florida state forests and wildlife management areas. In turn, this barely regulated harvesting removes large quantities of this important wildlife food source and the bears lose out. So what do they do? Yogi finds some in your garbage.

Florida Gulf Coast University is renowned for its constant efforts to better the environment while bettering its students. In Southwest Florida, we’re lucky enough to get this unique clash of ecosystems between the ocean, forests and swamps. So why wouldn’t we try to protect its inhabitants? That’s why FGCU should be leading the charge in saying “no” to bear hunting and “yes” to educating the rest of the state about these awesome creatures.

It’s time to stand up not only for the Florida’s environment, but all of its inhabitants too.

Your move, FGCU.

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