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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

The Florida House passes a bill to allow bear killings

Three black bears are sitting on a slope that leads to a river. Two of them are swimming in it while the other is playing in some tall grass.
Black bear family swimming near a river

The Florida House on Thursday passed a controversial proposal aimed at allowing people to kill bears in self-defense.

Sponsor Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, said the bill (HB 87) is needed because of an increase in bears venturing into residential areas of his sprawling North Florida district.

Also, he said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hasn’t changed its approach to human-bear interactions.

“We have to have a way for people to defend themselves,” Shoaf said. “And, yes, the common law says that if you think the bear is going to kill you, then you can defend yourself. Yes. But I've had FWC (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) officers tell me, ‘That bear had better have gunpowder burns on its chest. Otherwise, you're going to jail.’ That's not reasonable.”

But opponents said better trash management in rural counties would help reduce bears being attracted to residential areas.

Rep. Katherine Waldron, D-Wellington, called the proposal “shameful” in undermining the jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to give “people free rein to kill the remaining black bears.”

The House voted 88-29 to pass the bill.

The Senate is scheduled Wednesday to take up its version of the bill (SB 632). Shoaf pushed the proposal the past few years, but it drew additional support this year as the sheriffs of rural Franklin and Liberty counties expressed concerns about increasing bear populations interacting with people.

Under the proposal, people who shoot bears would be required to notify the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission within 24 hours of killings. People who provoke or lure bears wouldn’t be shielded under the measure. Also, people would not be allowed to possess or sell bear carcasses after the killings.

Rep. Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, said the intent isn’t to kill bears or to establish a bear hunt, but “in Florida we have the right to protect our family against a predator, just as we would if a criminal walked into our home.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, suggested narrowing the measure by geography.

“At the end of the day, being responsible and being educated on bear etiquette is essential in ensuring that you reduce that bear-human interaction,” Eskamani said.

Bear hunting has long been controversial in Florida, with the most-recent hunt held in 2015. A 2017 estimate by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the most recent available, said the state had about 4,050 bears.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.