Concerns about bear habitat

Published: Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 08:52 AM.

Dear Editor,

I was pleased to read that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is accepting public input about black bears (“The bear necessities covered at FWC workshop” May 29). I’m concerned, however, that if the agency focuses too closely on smaller “bear management units” that Florida might fail to “see the forest for the trees,” when it comes to recovering the Florida’s rare and unique subspecies of black bears on a statewide level.

Right now, Florida really doesn’t have a singular bear population—we have several smaller populations that are largely isolated from one another. Bears need large areas of habitat connected to other bear populations in order to maintain genetic diversity, but land development in Florida has destroyed much of these habitat linkages.

In the early 1970s, only a few hundred bears remained in Florida, due largely to habitat loss and trophy hunting. Threatened species protections, including a statewide ban on trophy hunting, helped bring bears back from the brink of extinction. Until 2012, the Florida black bear remained a threatened species, and bears in Florida still have an uphill climb if they are to thrive in the long term. Wildlife professionals anticipate that millions more acres of bear habitat will be lost to development by 2060.

Bear management units in some areas may also push the agency to reopen an ill-advised bear trophy hunt. Florida would be wise to keep the big picture in mind when it comes to helping this magnificent keystone species survive.

Laurie Hood
Founder / President

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