Black bears surge in Florida, but still illegal to hunt, state says

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The once-threatened black bear will continue to be off limits to Florida hunters, as part of a 10-year management plan approved Wednesday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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The bears used to number only in the low hundreds and were declared a threatened species in the 1970s. Since then, their numbers have exploded, with the bear population swelling to about 4,000 across the state.

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In some places, they have become a nuisance and safety issue as humans and the animals encroach on each other's habitat.

The population explosion has caused concern, prompting the commission to draft a management plan that they said takes a scientific approach toward addressing the rising numbers.

For now, though, that plan won't include hunting — although commissioners say they wouldn't rule out future hunts when appropriate.

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The commission last authorized a hunt in 2015 — the first in more 20 years — and hunters killed 304 bears in two days.

The hunt drew criticism from animal advocates. The commission reconsidered another hunt two years ago but declined then, as it did this week, to authorize another hunt.