Groups Seek Endangered Species Act Protection for Florida Black Bears

Groups Seek Endangered Species Act Protection for Florida Black Bears - Photo from the Forest Service - Southern RegionMore Than 20 Percent of Population Estimated Lost in 2015

St. Petersburg, Florida—Renowned scientists and over a dozen conservation and animal-protection organizations, including the Animal Welfare Institute, submitted a scientific petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect the Florida black bear under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Habitat loss, roadkill, and the first state-authorized bear hunt in over 20 years made 2015 a deadly year for Florida black bears, with humans responsible for killing at least 590 bears out of an estimated population of 3,000 to 3,500.

“The Florida black bear almost blinked out of existence once on our watch,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Years of out-of-control sprawl have pinched the Florida black bear between roads and homes, threatening its long-term survival, but the ESA can provide a roadmap to make sure the bear has a place in Florida’s future.”

The state’s largest land mammal, the Florida black bear once roamed widely throughout the Southeast. It now occupies only 18 percent of its original range, in seven highly isolated subpopulations. Land-use decisions, hunting, and human population growth cut the bear population from an estimated 11,000 to just 300 several decades ago. State protections helped bring bears back from the brink of extinction, but following state delisting and an ill-conceived hunt sanctioned by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the bear’s future is once again threatened.

“The ESA exists to save imperiled species like the Florida black bear, which has become isolated in ever-smaller pockets of habitat,” said Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director. “At a time when the bear faces the threats of encroaching development, busy roads, and a disastrous trophy hunt, the law must step in to protect this iconic species from an untimely demise.”

Outside of habitat loss, vehicle collisions have, for years, been the leading known cause of death of Florida black bears. The number of bears killed by vehicles has consistently increased from 33 in 1990 to 170 in 2014, peaking at 285 bear deaths in 2012. Another increasingly common threat is poorly managed human garbage and other human food sources that create so-called “problem bears” that are removed or killed to prevent ongoing conflict. Florida wildlife managers killed 108 “problem bears” in 2015 alone. With Florida’s human population expected to increase by nearly 50 percent by 2060, these threats will only worsen, as human development encroaches on the bear’s ever-shrinking habitat. ESA listing and the designation of critical habitat for the bears would help alleviate the threats.

“Black bears are an iconic species, an essential part of our natural world: We need to ensure they remain that way,” said Dr. Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke University and long-time Florida species and habitat researcher.

“Scientists have an obligation to speak up when agencies are not using the best available science to protect our wildlife” said Dr. Treves, associate professor at the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Florida back bears are a public-trust asset, and the state’s apparent mismanagement of the Florida black bear not only puts the bear at risk of extinction, but appears to violate state and federal public-trust obligations.”

Scientists joining the petition include Drs. Pimm, Treves, Miha Krofel, Paul Paquet,Guillaume Chapron and Robert Wielgus. The local, state and national organizations joining the petition include Animal Hero Kids, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, the Animal Welfare Institute, Big Cat Rescue, the Center for Biological Diversity, CompassionWorks International, Environmental Action, the Florida League of Women Voters, The Humane Society of the United States, Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, Lobby for Animals, Preserve Our Wildlife, the Sierra Club Florida Chapter, South Florida Wildlands, Speak Up Wekivaand Stop the Florida Bear Hunt. The Everglades Law Centerco-authored the petition. These organizations collectively represent the interests of more than 100,000 Floridians who care deeply about the Florida black bear and its long-term survival.

To view the petition, click here.

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Media Contact:
Amey Owen, amey@awionline.org, (202) 446-2128

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