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Inside Florida’s first black bear hunt in more than two decades

OCALA NATIONAL FOREST, FL—Florida’s first black bear hunt in 21 years wrapped up in late October after two days of intense hunting. The controversial hunt was originally planned to last a week, but the 320-bear quota was nearly met in two days after 298 bears were killed.

Only three years ago, black bears were still considered a threatened species in Florida. With the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) estimating their population to be around 3,500, the agency decided it was time to reinstate the bear hunt to keep their numbers in check. In doing so, the FWC sold 3,778 bear hunting permits, equivalent to 12 hunters per bear.

The bear hunt was distributed across four areas in Florida, with quota numbers based on a population census that hadn’t been completely updated since 2002. In the East Panhandle region, 40 bears were allowed to be taken, but more than 100 ended up being killed over the course of the two days.

Despite general public outrage—including 40,000 people requesting that FWC cancel the hunt—the hunting season proceeded as planned. Those arguing against the hunt accused the FWC of not having the necessary data to oversee a scientifically responsible hunt and that an excess of licenses were sold.

Environmentalist Chuck O’Neal, who opposed the hunt, organized a group of two hundred volunteers to monitor the hunt and make sure the rules were being followed, which included: no bait or hunting dogs, female bears accompanied by cubs could not be targeted, and neither could specimens weighting under 100 pounds.

According to the FWC, two cubs ended up being killed during the short season. The hunter responsible for killing one 88-pound cub only received a warning for his actions. Another hunter who shot a 42-pound cub is still under investigation.

Shortly after the end of this year’s hunt, the FWC announced that it plans to open the hunt again in 2016. Environmentalists have vowed to continue their efforts to put an end to the killing.

VIDEO CREDITS:
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: NICOLÁS IBARGÜEN
PRODUCER: LARA FERNÁNDEZ
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: JORGE VÁZQUEZ
EDITOR: CARLOS NAVARRETE
COLORIST: DINO PASCARELLI

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