Floridians can ‘stand their ground’ and kill threatening bears under bill going to DeSantis

FILE - A property owner posts a bear warning sign on private property near a recent bear attack, July 22, 2012, In Ankorage, Alaska. So long as they don't eat them, stuff them or turn them into hats for the British royal guard, Floridians will be able to kill black bears threatening them on their property with no consequences under a bill sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, March 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth, File)

FILE – A property owner posts a bear warning sign on private property near a recent bear attack, July 22, 2012, In Ankorage, Alaska. So long as they don’t eat them, stuff them or turn them into hats for the British royal guard, Floridians will be able to kill black bears threatening them on their property with no consequences under a bill sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, March 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — So long as they don’t eat them, stuff them or turn them into hats for the British royal guard, Florida residents will be allowed to kill black bears threatening them on their property with no consequences under a bill sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday.

The once-threatened Florida black bear population has increasingly wandered into neighborhoods and private property, especially in more rural areas of north and central Florida. The legislation is similar to the “stand your ground” law that allows people to use deadly force against other people threatening them.

Supporters say Floridians have the right to defend themselves, their families, pets and property against bears coming around looking for food. But opponents fear people will become trigger happy and not take other precautions against bears.

“I’m not in favor of enabling the mass murder of bears,” said Democratic Rep. Katherine Waldron. “This bill is based on fear and not facts. Make no mistake, this bill was created by and for people looking for any excuse to be able to hunt and kill a bear.”

She noted that the bill gives bear killers 24 hours to notify the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission of their action, enough time to come up with a self-defense excuse. She argued that they won’t need much evidence.

“Bears will not bother you if you behave responsibly,” she said. “Zero people have been murdered by black bears in our state. You are 60,000 times more likely to be murdered by another human.”

But Republican Rep. Jason Shoaf said wildlife officials have assured him they will investigate every bear killing thoroughly and won’t tolerate people shooting bears out of trees or after luring them with food.

“They will be watching diligently once this bill is passed to make an example of the first person who tries to use this as some type of defense, and I’ll be there at the trial to make sure they get the justice they deserve,” Shoaf said.

People who kill a bear wouldn’t be allowed to keep or sell any meat or parts of the bear. That means no bear rugs or selling them to the company that makes the famous, black bearskin hats worn by guards outside London’s Buckingham Palace.

Florida’s bear population has rebounded after declining to about 300 in the 1970s and is now estimated to exceed 4,000. The state allowed a limited bear hunt in 2015, when the population was estimated at 3,500. More than 3,200 hunters purchased permits to participate, including 1970s rocker Ted Nugent.

The hunt was supposed to last up to a month, but ended after 304 bears were killed in two days. The state backed off the idea of holding more.

The state does give advice on what people should do if they have a close encounter with a bear.

“Remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice,” the conservation commission says on it’s website. “Make sure that you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away. Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run.”

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