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Bad news for bears — and for Florida — in the Legislature | Editorial

Protestors become vocal Friday, October 23, 2015 the day before a planned FWC bear hunt at a rally in Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. The hunt begins at 7:01am Saturday.   (Red Huber/Staff Photographer)
Protestors become vocal Friday, October 23, 2015 the day before a planned FWC bear hunt at a rally in Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. The hunt begins at 7:01am Saturday. (Red Huber/Staff Photographer)
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State lawmakers should know by now that nothing riles up their constituents more than legislation impacting animal welfare. Many people remember what happened in 2015, the last time the state decided it was legal to shoot bears.

That was an ugly 48 hours. In that brief time, nearly 300 bears were slaughtered. The sound of gunfire was easily drowned out by howls of outrage from Floridians disgusted by the carnage.

And now this bad idea is back, only much worse.

Florida doesn’t need a “stand your ground” law for bears; it already knows of a better way to deal with them. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has worked with local officials to support community efforts to educate the public about ways to coexist peacefully with Florida’s largest native species. That’s the only real solution. As many communities realize, bears will go where the food is. And because their native habitats of scrublands, pine plantations and wild forests have been bulldozed, more bears now roam the winding streets of subdivisions.

Open season on bears

Already, opposition is mounting against a bill titled “The Taking of Bears” ( and ) that would allow bears to be killed year-round by anyone with a gun in any situation where they can claim to be defending themselves or their property. That could amount to an open season on bears that, in almost every case, pose no legitimate threat to human beings. Many thought the legislation would never gain traction, but it’s lumbering through committee hearings and, inexplicably, getting a pass each time.

A juvenile bear rests up a tree off North John Young Parkway in Orlando, on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. The the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is on site, monitoring the bear.(Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel)
A juvenile bear rests up a tree off North John Young Parkway in Orlando, on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. The the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is on site, monitoring the bear.(Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel)

At a meeting of the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee, the sponsor, Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, painted a picture of bears crashing through kitchen doors and attacking helpless dog-walkers.

“There’s this huge black bear … digging through your refrigerator, putting you and your children and your pets at risk,” Shoaf said. “Today, you can’t shoot it. You have to sit there and blow a whistle, hope you have some bear mace and call (Fish and Wildlife) and pray.”

That’s nonsense. Shoaf implies that multitudes are being prosecuted for defending themselves against an ursine army of marauders, but state game wardens don’t arrest people for defending themselves against bears when they are truly threatened.

We couldn’t find a case where a bear went further than a front porch, though there have been plenty of recent incidents of bears being caught by doorbell cameras, including a Lake Mary trick-or-treater who found a stash of candy and a three-legged bear, nicknamed “Tripod,” spotted several times in Seminole County, where he once helped himself to three White Claw seltzers. An Orlando bandit once swiped a food-delivery package.

If Shoaf’s legislation passes, it would be open season on those porch pirates. The resulting videos would be far more grim than the ones that making the rounds on social media.

Most Floridians in bear-intensive zones have learned to live with — and even chuckle at — occasional bear sightings.

The FWC has worked hard, in conjunction with jurisdictions like Seminole County, to educate the public about safe ways to avoid human-bear violence and prevent home invasions, such as blocking access to outdoor refrigerators and securing trash cans. The Legislature should send more money downstate for bearproof trash containers and lid locks.

These programs work. Encounters where humans might feel truly endangered have plummeted in suburban Orlando’s Seminole County, .

Several county residents traveled to Tallahassee to testify against the bill, and they made one more important point: This bill is likely to put humans in far more danger.

The obvious threat is that someone would attempt to shoot a bear in their subdivision, misfire in a moment of panic, and instead hit a neighbor’s house or another person. It can also be pretty tough to kill a 400-pound bear with the kinds of guns many Floridians keep at home, and a pain-maddened animal is far more likely to attack.

“I’ve seen bears from one end of the state to the other,” said Sanford resident Joseph Humphries, identified himself as an NRA member and hunter. “We have just as many bears as you do, and I can tell you for a fact this is a dangerous bill to the majority of the state.”

The ֱ Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Opinion Editor Dan Sweeney, editorial writer Martin Dyckman and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at letters@sun-sentinel.com.

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