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After the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's decision to open a bear hunting season in October, a local animal rights group continues to bear arms in protest.

The FWC voted unanimously Wednesday at a meeting in Tallahassee to proceed with the pending bear hunt, which will include a seven-day season at the end of October, allowing up to 275 bears to be killed.

"Bear populations have grown over the last 15 to 20 years," said Richard Corbett, FWC chairman. "It is our responsibility to manage these populations, and hunting is an important and effective tool to help us do so."

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, nonprofit activist organization coordinated by UCF alumni Bryan Wilson and his wife Carla, were at the meeting Wednesday to persuade the commission to vote against the bear hunt.

"The problem with hunting bears is that the survey of bear populations is not complete, and an open hunt could put the bears back in danger," said ARFF coordinator Bryan. "The hunt does not keep the public safe; it is a trophy hunt. This is just the hunters using the recent public bear incidents as an excuse to start hunting bears again."

According to the FWC, the hunt is not for reducing human and bear conflicts, but is strictly for population control purposes. Corbett says the human and bear conflict issue is being addressed in other ways.

"We know that bear feeding is an issue, so we need to continue to be proactive and responsive with our efforts," he said. "Properly securing garbage and other attractants is the single most important action for reducing conflict situations with bears."

Since black bears were removed from the threatened species status in 2012, the ARFF has been writing letters, providing input and attending FWC meetings to keep them safe. Once the FWC began discussing a hunt, the group began hosting press events and created a large banner that was hung over Interstate 4 reading "Tell FWC no bear hunt" to engage the public and raise awareness for the bears.

"We were delighted that so much of the public input was against the hunt," Carla said. "Then when they were obviously going to go forward with the hunt, it was really an insult given how much work had been put into mobilizing the public to just be ignored by the FWC."

Although the Commission voted yes to the hunt Wednesday, there is still another meeting in June that will determine if the government approves the bear hunting vote, making it officially legal. The ARFF plans to attend this meeting as well, but has another plan in mind.

"Our hope is that by asking the governor [who appoints FWC commissioners] to tell the FWC to cancel the hunt, we can still prevent the hunt from going forward," Carla said. "We are not done, the public still has a couple of months to pressure the governor ... "

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Gina Avile is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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