At a hearing last week held by the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee, Republican state Rep. Jason Shoaf urged his colleagues to pass House Bill 87, which would allow Floridians to shoot bears if they fear “imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.”
Shoaf introduced the bill, titled “Taking of Bears,” last September, The Guardian reports. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, black bears are the only species of bear found in Florida.
“This bill is not about bears,” he told the committee last week.
“Bears are cute and cuddly and an amazing creature ― those aren’t the bears we’re talking about in this bill. 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.”
“So when you run into one of these crack bears, you should be able to shoot it. Period,” Shoaf said, adding that the bears have become “a major problem in the panhandle.”
He also lamented that Floridians can fatally shoot other people without fear of reprisal but aren’t afforded the same liberty when it comes to bears.
“If a person approached you in your carport at night and you shot them, there’s no chance you’d be arrested,” he said. “But with an animal, you are putting your life, your future, in the hands of a wildlife officer and their decision-making at that moment.”
A staff analysis of HB 87 blamed human-bear conflicts in Florida on the increasingly fragmented natural habitat of the state’s bears, leading the animals to encounter “unsecured garbage or other human-provided food sources.” The report made no note of bears ingesting illicit drugs.
Asked by Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani about the need to use lethal force instead of just encouraging homeowners to properly secure their trashcans, Shoaf acknowledged that’s a problem ― but suggested it’s ultimately unsolvable.
“You’re always going to have garbage left out,” he said. “Garbage in the streets, garbage unsecured, is an attractant. It definitely is.”
The committee approved the bill on a 16-9 party-line vote, setting up a hearing before the full chamber.
Eskamani, one of the “no” votes, urged the other lawmakers to blame human activity around bears ― not the other way around.
“It’s our responsibility to not destroy their habitat,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to develop wildlife corridors so they have safe ways to travel. And it’s our responsibility to ensure that we limit their human engagement.”
“A lot of the bears that are engaging with humans — it’s because humans have fed them; humans have been irresponsible in their interaction with them,” she added.
Shoaf has introduced similar legislation in prior years and called for a statewide bear hunt in 2023, according to ClickOrlando.com.
Florida last held a state-sanctioned bear hunt in 2015. The state’s fish and wildlife conservation commission ended the event after Floridians proceeded to kill 295 bears in just two days, according to The Guardian.