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Groups Want Protections for Florida's Black Bears

Scientists say despite some headway for the species, habitat loss and population growth continue to threaten the Florida black bear. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)
Scientists say despite some headway for the species, habitat loss and population growth continue to threaten the Florida black bear. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)
March 28, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - While state wildlife officials say Florida's black bear population is on the rise, a coalition of scientists believes more needs to be done to preserve and protect the animals and their habitat.

Dozens of scientific, environmental, and conservation groups are backing a petition to have the Florida black bear protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity, says last year was particularly deadly for the black bear.

"The number of bears we lost to just human forces - not even the background factors, like the effect of habitat loss or even just natural mortality, but human factors alone - we lost about 15 to 20 percent of the population," says Lopez.

The state estimates the adult black bear population to be about 4,300, however its surveys were conducted prior to last year's hunt, in which more than 300 bears were killed in two days.

A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Commission says there is no "magic number" at which a species would be listed as endangered, and that the petition will be reviewed in the next 90 days.

While the overall number of bears may be on the rise, Lopez says it doesn't change the fact that the populations are extremely fragmented and face mounting threats from human population growth.

She says that will further isolate them from each other and, if current policies continue, make the bears and other species increasingly vulnerable.

"Lots of other species and animals and plants depend on the same habitat that the bear depends on," Lopez explains. "So, using the bear as sort of an umbrella species to have this conversation, the agencies and our elected officials have failed us, and have failed the bear."

Last year's bear hunt was the first in the state in more than two decades. State officials have not yet decided if there will be another hunt this year.

Mona Shand/Judy Steffes, Public News Service - FL