If you’ve seen some of the graphic images of slaughtered Florida black bears online you’re probably as disgusted as I am. If you think hunting is a great sport at all costs, this post probably isn’t for you. Although perhaps I might persuade you to see a different perspective, please read on.
First off, I’m not an anti-hunting or anti-gun person. I believe in the second amendment for all the reasons our Founding Fathers included it immediately after the first amendment. However, the “quick fix” Florida has taken to the black bear “problem” is irresponsible and ill-planned.
Let’s look at a similar issue that occurred in the United States with the wolf population. This has ringing parallel aspects to the black bear issue. Residents and farmers were tired of nuisance wolves attacking livestock. Instead of restricting wolf hunting to nuisance wolves on a local level, the Federal government, through the Bureau of Biological Survey, saw fit to eradicate wolves entirely. Hunters brought in the hides for cash, by the hundreds per person in some cases.
To sell this idea to the general public was a simple task. Centuries long hatred towards wolves and propaganda campaigns strategically placed in the minds of children and adults alike, made the wolf out to be an evil demon. “Little Red Riding Hood” is a product of this mindset and era. Yes, government misinformation to make us collectively hate a species, and usher in a “quick fix” while overlooking better solutions that might take more time or resources.
At Vermillion College in Ely Minnesota, one of the largest wolf research centers in the U.S., you can learn that there has never been a recorded wild wolf attack on a human – ever. Wolf/dog hybrid mixes, created by people allowing such breeding, have attacked people, usually because people want to treat them as dogs and ignore their ingrained social hierarchal dominance.
By 1950 there were no wolves left in the lower 48 continental United States. Earlier, the American Gray wolf was present in every state, including Florida, until this government led systematic execution. For decades it seemed, to some, the perfect solution. All the scary wolves removed–out of sight, out of mind.
The Black Bear “Issue”
So fast-forward and we have a black bear “problem” in Florida. The main question is, does the “solution” balance the “problem”? Essentially, there are specific geographic areas, mostly residential hot-spots, where there have been more and more sighting of black bears. These events are highly publicized and certainly draw in concerned viewers to the eleven o’clock news. The problem is mainly focused on trash bins and pets.
It seems there are a number of solutions, or combination of solutions, that would have immediate impact on this issue.
Create a mandate in affected areas of no outside trash unless in a bear proof trash bins. And pets need to be monitored or kept inside. This seems to be common sense. People who choose to leave near wooded wild areas must be good stewards and realize they too are a component of the natural habitat.
Collar and track bears in the immediate area to study and learn their range and behaviors. Long-term, develop corridors where bears can pass through areas without coming in contact with residents.
Capture and relocate nuisance bears from affected area. This seems straight forward enough.
A Real Bear Issue
The town of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada has a REAL bear issue. Every late spring/early summer when the ice melts on the Hudson Bay, the bears come back to land to wait out the short summer.
Polar bears can kill people with ease. Like starving guests around a chip bowl at a packed Super Bowl party, they aren’t shy. Polar bears main diet is seal and the only way they can capture seals is by waiting at holes on top of the ice. So they need the Hudson Bay to freeze over before they can start hunting. The freeze over occurs in November and lasts until May or June. In the meantime, they eat very little and wander around making due with plants, berries, and dumpsters.
Until the late 1970s polar bears were simply shot when they appeared anywhere near town. Luckily for the polar bears, tourism saved them. With bears being shot on a regular basis their numbers dwindled. The town’s remote location and stagnant industry gave way to tourism and the people decided the bears needed to stay alive or tourism too would disappear.
Churchill’s solution? They have a small crew that responds immediately to a polar bear sighting, just like an emergency service. A mobile bear trap is towed behind a pickup to each call and the nuisance bear is usually trapped in short order. From there they are carted to the edge of town and locked up in prison.
The resourceful people of Churchill converted a defunct fish packing building into the polar bear jail. Cells are constructed of cinder block walls and bars similar to a regular jail. The sentence for all incarcerated polar bears is confinement until the November freeze over. Once it is determined that the Hudson Bay is frozen and other bears have started they’re hunting expeditions north out onto the ice, the jailed bears are one-by-one hauled (as seen above) to the edge of the Hudson Bay and the door is opened. The bears only want food and instinctively head out on the ice not to be seen again, until possibly next summer.
Yes, there are repeat offenders, and yes they are given clever names by the staff. Some bears require more work than others, but what doesn’t happen is the quick fix of a blanket execution.
Florida’s State Issued Solution
So the state of Florida issued permits to shoot black bears. Does this hunt concentrate on the areas where there have been bear problems? No! All black bears state-wide are in the cross hairs because of a handful of issues in particular areas.
Only a handful of years ago the black bear was on the endangered species list in Florida. There are estimated to be only 3,000 black bears in the state. This first state-organized hunt has reduced that population by TEN PERCENT or over 300+ slaughtered bears.
Large blanket governmental quick fixes have consequences. And these consequences are usually unforeseen immediately. Take the Federal government’s blanket execution of all wolves. One consequence is an unchecked deer population. Some say that was an additional reason for the calling of the wolf slaughter. Hunters didn’t want wolves taking “their” game. Now there are few natural predators to balance the deer population. How many people are killed in deer related car accidents each year?
Another effect from the wolf annihilation was a change in the wolf gene pool composition. While this is not proven, it is believed that most of the assertive, curious, outgoing wolves were the ones quickly executed decades ago. The remaining shy, less outgoing wolves survived in a few far northern states and Canada. Today, after reintroduction efforts, some wolf packs live in northern states and Canada, however they are incredibly illusive and rarely seen by people.
The consequence from this indiscriminate black bear slaughter in Florida remains to play out. Were all the “problem” bears in the affected residential areas targeted and removed systematically to address the trouble areas? Were the specific problem bears targeted? Were young bears without records of causing problems left along. Were pregnant female bears selectively avoided? Were cubs not left without a mother to guide them? Were bears in purely wild natural areas, like the Ocala National Forest and elsewhere left alone and not made to pay the ultimate price for the few bears that just happen to live in areas where more people are taking up residence, like around Orlando? As you may have guessed, the answer to all these questions is NO!
The “problem” bears may or may not have been affected by this state sanctioned slaughter. It’s only a matter of time before another bear shows up in someone’s lawn and the news crews excitedly proclaim the bear hunt wasn’t enough or didn’t last long enough and exaggerative residents proclaim their fears. Then the state issues more permits, lengthens the hunting period and eventually wipes out the black bear just like we did the wolf.
In addition, we are setting an example, and states with similar residential development wildlife issues might take our cue and the game continues, until someday black bears might only be seen in the wilds of remote states or perhaps Canada.
The Ill-logical Parallel Solution
This “quick fix” knee-jerk solution made by our government is not only irresponsible, it’s disgustingly disproportionate to the issue at hand. The only two links in this “solution” are black bears coming into residential areas and executing any random black bear statewide.
So let us apply this logic to us–humans. Some humans cause problems; steal things, violate others, even murder. Instead of singling those individual criminals out, we’ll just look at “humans” as a group instead, any humans; men, women, children, old, young, anyone. Then we will issue permits to kill humans. On certain days each year hunters that bought special permits can go around killing humans. The bodies will be dragged to state game inspection sites where inspectors will collect data from the rotting corpses and count. They will count until TEN PERCENT of the human population has been eliminated. Then they will call a timeout to assess the situation and decide when to start the hunting AGAIN! That will solve the problem, right? No? Well, that’s what the state of Florida is doing to black bears!!!
On a personal note
Through photography I’ve been blessed to see many amazing scenes in nature. I try to make as much time as possible to get outside and explore. As a society, I believe, we need to appreciate the amazing nature around us, not simply brush it aside as an afterthought or take it for granted.
As it is now, it seems we as a society spend less and less time out in nature. Leaving our kids (myself included) in front of the TV or an electronic device does little to assure nature will be appreciated for generations.
I spend hundreds of hours each year outside exploring and photographing, I’ve yet to come across a Florida black bear in the wild. Senseless actions like this bear slaughtering, instigated by people fearing instead of interacting with nature, will most certainly make seeing a wild black bear that much more difficult.
Several years ago, my wife and I assisted the Vermillion Community College in Ely, Minnesota for two weeks with an extensive ongoing wolf research project. Studying a particular wolf pack and logging hours of data, we gained a new respect for this misunderstood species. In our fourteen days there, knowing that the collared alpha wolf, along with her pack, was always near by (sometimes within feet of us), we never saw a single wild wolf.
We have to be good stewards of nature to assure it will last. This mindless slaughter of the Florida black bear is not a responsible action. It has nothing to do with hunting and assisting the natural balance of wildlife. It has everything to do with creating a band-aid to appease a few people, but in the end it has the potential to wipe out a species. Its time to stand up against the ignorance of natural systems and governmental meddling with mindless quick fixes.
Please post a comment with your thoughts.