Protect Florida’s Bears! Ask Governor DeSantis to Veto HB 87 and SB 632

Posted 3/12/24

Florida’s current estimate of its black bear population is 4,050 bears.

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Protect Florida’s Bears! Ask Governor DeSantis to Veto HB 87 and SB 632


Dear Friends,

Bills have now passed both the Florida House (HB 87) and Florida Senate (SB 632) and have been referenced as the “Self Defense Act”. They are awaiting the Governor’s signature. The bills are aimed at allowing the killing of Florida’s black bears where a claim of self-defense has been made. South Florida Wildlands Association (SFWA) opposes these bills and urges our supporters to contact Governor DeSantis and ask him to veto HB 87 and SB 632. That can be done easily at the link below:

To begin with, this legislation is completely unnecessary. In Florida or any other state, killing any animal in a legitimate act of self-defense is already permissible under common law (“defense of necessity”). Numerous court cases have backed up that principle.

The core of this new bill states: “A person is not subject to any administrative, civil, or criminal penalty for taking a bear with lethal force if: (a) The person reasonably believed that his or her action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself or to another…”. Not only is this law unnecessary but appears to remove the current authority of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to investigate and make the final determination on whether or not a bear killing was necessary.

Ironically, even the U.S. Endangered Species Act allows for the killing of federally endangered and threatened species in situations where common sense dictates that an act of self-defense was warranted and the evidence backs up the claim.

The Endangered Species Act, Section 11 [16 U.S.C. 1540], Subsection (a)(3) reads as follows:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, no civil penalty shall be imposed if it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed an act based on a good faith belief that he was acting to protect himself or herself, a member of his or her family, or any other individual from bodily harm, from any endangered or threatened species.”

But instead of common sense, the issues contained in these bills have been fired up with hyperbole and an exaggerated threat level regarding Florida’s black bears. See the quote below from HB 87’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Shoaf (District 7) supporting his bill during a Florida House hearing:

“We’re talking about the ones that are on crack, and they break your door down, and they’re standing in your living room growling and tearing your house apart,” Shoaf said. “When you run into one of these crack bears, you should be able to shoot it, period. And you shouldn’t have to pause or be afraid you’re gonna get arrested or harassed or pay fines. That’s just crazy.”

SFWA has been involved in numerous Florida black bear issues over the years. Given the threats from continued bear habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation in addition to roadkill (by far the largest cause of death for black bears with over 200 killed in an average year), we argued that black bears should never have been removed from Florida’s imperiled species list as they were in 2012. In 2015, just three years after removal from that list, the FWC authorized a controversial bear hunt that was also based largely on the supposed threat black bears posed to humans. That hunt was canceled in just two days after approximately 300 bears were taken by over 3,200 registered hunters. SFWA joined others around the state in opposing both the 2015 hunt and the resumption of a black bear hunt ever since.

Florida’s current estimate of its black bear population is 4,050 bears. Once a single population distributed across the entire state, the rapid development of Florida’s landscapes and road network has created seven genetically and geographically isolated subpopulations managed by the FWC in “Bear Management Units” or BMUs. One of those units, Big Bend, with an estimated population of 30 bears, might not even be viable. It is obvious that with continued residential and commercial development inside these BMUs, bears and humans will continue to have interactions – many of them negative for both species. Instead of hunting or an unnecessary “self-defense act,” SFWA makes the following recommendations:

1 - The FWC should consult on each development proposed to be built on rural land that is situated in known bear habitat. As an example, SFWA has been battling new developments in Southwest Florida wildlife habitats for years. One such development, Bellmar (1,000 acres with up to 2,750 new homes), is a stone’s throw from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. While the Refuge is critical to Florida’s remaining panther population, it is also ground zero for the South Florida Bear Management Unit. During public hearings on Bellmar, we voiced the science-based opinion that human-bear conflict is inevitable if Bellmar is built. As they do throughout Florida, black bears will follow their super-keen noses to food odors – and human-bear conflict will be the inevitable result. The Collier County Commissioners ultimately approved the development which is now winding its way through wetlands and wildlife permitting with state and federal agencies.

If Florida truly wants to reduce the problem of bears entering neighborhoods, the most important step is halting the construction of neighborhoods in and around core bear habitat. In addition to formal, consultation, another good step in that direction is a requirement that FWC staff and scientists attend county commission meetings where development in bear habitat is on the table and explain to commissioners what the result of their decision will be. For bears, it almost always means less habitat, reduced natural food sources, more roadkill, and more “euthanasia” of so-called nuisance bears – which became a nuisance only because of the development that moved into their habitat.

2 - Regarding bears entering existing residential communities, the most important step to avoid conflict is strong control of food availability. That means outdoor patios, barbecues, bird feeders, and, especially, garbage. Bears are smart animals with big appetites and one of the best noses in the animal kingdom. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, “7 times better than a bloodhound’s or 2,100 times better than a human’s.” They are also omnivorous and can eat anything we can. In addition to ensuring that no food or food scraps are available for bears, the mandatory use of bear-proof garbage cans is a necessity. With all its development and revenue, Florida can afford a subsidized program where those who cannot afford the purchase can have one provided for them. Educational programs on “living with bears” can also be expanded for those communities already in bear habitat.

Proceeds from the “bear” plate benefit a wide variety of species, from black bears and indigo snakes to endangered Florida grasshopper sparrows. [Photo courtesy FWC]
Proceeds from the “bear” plate benefit a wide variety of species, from black bears and indigo snakes to endangered Florida grasshopper sparrows. …
Florida can do a much better job protecting all its wildlife – one of the most important and beloved resources we have. But it will not get there by pushing unnecessary and redundant legislation that provides no solutions to human-wildlife conflict in a rapidly growing state. Please contact the Governor at the link below and push for policies that will make a positive difference in the way Florida cares for its wildlife instead of generating more controversy. Ask Governor DeSantis to veto HB 87 and SB 632.

Also, please consider a tax-deductible donation to South Florida Wildlands at this time. We run numerous campaigns that benefit Florida’s remaining wildlife. None of them are easy - and all our work depends on your support.

black bears, hunt, veto