TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Floridians could soon be able to kill bears threatening them on their property with no consequences — if they don't bait or provoke them first or turn them into meals or rugs later.
A measure approved in its final House committee stop Tuesday would allow people without a hunting permit to use fatal force against a bear that's threatening a human, a pet or a home. The bill was introduced in November because of a growing number of encounters between people and the large mammals, but one that has bear lovers upset.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Jason Shoaf, described how dangerous a bear encounter can be.
“If you hear your door kicked in in the middle of the night, hear something rummaging around in your kitchen,” he said. “There's this huge black bear destroying it, digging through your refrigerator, putting you and your children and your pets at risk. Today, you can't shoot that bear. You have to sit there and blow a whistle and hope you have some bear mace ... and pray.”
The House Infrastructure Strategies Committee approved the bill on a 16-9 vote. A similar Senate bill has been approved by two committees and has a third stop before being considered by the full chamber.
If it becomes a law, anyone killing a bear in a situation like that would have to report the incident to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission within 24 hours and they wouldn't be allowed to keep or sell any meat or parts of the bear.
While there was little dispute that bear encounters are a concern, bill opponents said that the Florida black bear is a timid animal and that unprovoked attacks are rare and fatal attacks even more so. Instead of making it easier to kill bears, opponents say the state should better educate residents on how not to attract them.
Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb said people are far more likely to be killed by alligators, dogs and bees.
“I'm not sure that this is a problem that we just need to rush into a solution of going ahead and killing bears because one is afraid,” Gottlieb said. “We need a different solution.”
But Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson said she'll defend herself no matter what comes into her home.
“If a man's coming through my window or a bear or a racoon — it doesn't matter," she said. “That is a threat to my life and my property.”
Florida's bear population has rebounded after declining to about 300 in the 1970s. The state allowed a limited bear hunt in 2015, when the population was estimated to be 3,500. The decision was wildly popular among hunters — more than 3,200 hunters purchased permits to participate, including 1970s rocker Ted Nugent — and widely criticized by bear lovers.