PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB)- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meets only five times a year at locations all over the state.
FWC staff met on Wednesday morning in Panama City Beach at the Edgewater Beach resort with a goal. On the agenda, commissioners set out for approval of the draft update of the 2012 black bear management plan.
The plan has been in the works for years, taking into consideration a considerable amount of data that was used to assemble the 2019 draft that was presented at Wednesday’s meeting.
“It encapsulates all the different steps of progress that we’ve made since the bear was de-listed all the way up to now. It really gives you a full picture. If you want to know bears and what you can do about bears, it’s in this plan,” said Bear Management Program Coordinator, David Telesco.
With 56 people signed up to make public comments, it made for a long morning as each person weighed in on the proposed draft. Some were in favor and others were adamantly against. Those not in favor touched mainly on preserving the bear population and ending all hunting of the Florida Black Bear.
In her turn to make public comment, Katrina Shadix, an activist out of Seminole County, stated that the bears no longer need to be hunted by people for sport because they’re already being killed off enough in other ways.
“The mortality rate that the FWC wants for bears is about 20% and that’s already being reached by other methods such as vehicle strikes, poaching, a nuisance kill that they have to kill and of course loss of habitat is a huge one,” said Bear Warriors United Director, Katrina Shadix.
In her final minute of addressing the commission, Shadix notified the commission of a 60-day notice of intent to sue regarding documented violation of section nine of the ‘Federal Endangered Species Act‘. Shaddix stated that she truly does not wish to go through with the lawsuit, but should the commission not address these violations, she and her organization, ‘Bear Warriors United’, will have no choice but to initiate litigation in federal court.
However, David Telesco with FWC, the one who presented the 2019 draft, says while the debate focused on to hunt or not to hunt, that’s not what the meeting was really about. He said the argument of whether or not the bears would be hunted shifted the focus from the real task at hand, which was approving the draft that sets the guidelines for bear management.
“This is a tool that we were asked to explore anything available out there for population management and regulate hunting is one tool that can be used. It is the most common tool and it’s used in most states,” said Bear Management Program Coordinator, David Telesco.
Although hunting regulations are introduced in the draft, there’s still no definite word on whether or not there will be an approved hunt in 2020 or the years following. Public comment was heard throughout the day and will be considered in the final draft.
Local officials say they trust them to get it done right. “They’ll do a good job. These guys have protected our rights for an awfully long time,” said Panama City Beach Mayor, Mike Thomas.
Thomas went on to say that he’s honored that Bay County was chosen as the place to host the meeting and he welcomes the commission with open arms. “Bay County has always had great fishing, both fresh and saltwater, hunting, and we’ve got everything that these people are trying to protect. So I’m glad they’re here and it makes sense for them to come here,” said Thomas.