FWC:4,350 black bears in the state

The state of Florida is out with its newest statewide bear count.  

The FWC says the bear population is expanding across Florida.  

State officials will not say if that means another bear hunt is on the way.  

A local group working to protect bears says it will step up its lawsuit to stop another bear hunt.

Florida's bear hunt last October to thin the population claimed 304 bears in just two days.   

The state shut it down a day early.

Now, state wildlife managers have a new estimate on Florida's bear population.

Dr. Thomas Eason, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, spoke to reporters Thursday.  

The FWC now believes there are 4,350 black bears in Florida. That is a 60 percent increase from a 2002 bear count.

Dr. Eason says, "The take home message is large, expanding, growing bear populations that are healthy and have large numbers of bears."

Dr. Eason says bear population levels are high enough to have another hunt this year, but he says FWC is assessing the population survey data.

Dr. Eason adds, "We will be working with our commission to figure out what we may or may not do. I want to be clear at this point in time, staff does not have any proposal for hunting or not hunting next year."

Chuck O'Neal is Director of Speak up Wekiva.  

He says, "We filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the hunt."

The group took FWC to court last summer trying to prevent the bear hunt that happened this past October.  

The group argues FWC should not coordinate any bear hunt.

O'Neal says, "It was created to protect and conserve wildlife and we do not feel that they are honoring their constitutional obligation."

Speak up Wekiva is moving forward with last year's lawsuit and it hopes to depose Dr. Eason to get a closer look at FWC bear population numbers.

O'Neal adds, "We'd like to get a very clear picture of how they gathered the data, how they've come up with these particular figures."  

Speak up Wekiva hopes to take that deposition from Dr. Eason during April.

FWC says Central Florida saw a 19 percent increase in the bear population here since 2002.  

He says FWC is working to get more bear-resistant trash cans here and to teach people how to co-exist with bears.

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