House passes bill easing Florida black bear killing

FWC Black Bear AP
Florida black bears are generally shy and afraid of humans.

A bill to make it easier for Florida residents to kill bears without fear of punishment is bound for Senate consideration after clearing the Legislature’s lower chamber amid ample opposition.

The measure (HB 87), dubbed the “Self Defense Act,” drew sharp criticism as it advanced through the committee process this Session, and it did not escape the House unscathed.

If passed, it would enable Floridians to lethal force to “take a bear” on their property without a permit or other legal authorization if they believe it is necessary to protect themselves, another person, their pets or home.

People who avail themselves of the allowance would have to notify the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) within 24 hours of the incident. They would also be prohibited from selling or disposing of any part of the animal; that would be up to the FWC.

Port St. Joe Republican Rep. Jason Shoaf, the bill’s sponsor, said North Florida is overrun with bears, which have grown accustomed to being around people.

“They are starting to lose their fear and, in many cases, they’re coming onto our properties (and) into our homes to get to refrigerators,” he said. “As you can imagine, it is causing a major issue with my constituents and their safety.”

Black bears in Florida are protected by the Bear Conservation Rule, which largely prohibits shooting, killing or selling bear parts statewide. Their protection falls under the constitutional jurisdiction of the FWC, and the Legislature is generally precluded from writing laws dealing with bear population control or hunting.

In many ways, the provisions in HB 87 and a similar bill (SB 632) by Tallahassee Republican Sen. Corey Simon are already afforded in Florida under the Common Law Defense of Necessity, which allows bear killings in inescapable and lethal situations.

Shoaf said his bill adds more leeway to the common law defense by explicitly including pets and homes in its language, which would be codified in Florida Statutes.

“(This bill) says not only do you not have to stand there while a bear is about to attack you, you can (defend yourself) without fear of fines or imprisonment or penalties,” he said. “It gives you that clarity of mind in a very stressful moment that you’re going to be OK if you take this action.”

When probed for data on bears killing humans to support the changes his bill proposes, Shoaf was unable to provide any.

Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani noted that black bears are “notoriously shy” and asked him how many people in Florida the animals have killed. Shoaf said he didn’t have “the total number,” but offered to get it for her.

Rep. Katherine Waldron, a Wellington Democrat, answered Eskamani’s query later in a fiery opprobrium, calling HB 87 a “shameful bill.”

“Since recorded history here in Florida, zero people have been killed by black bears. Zero. And last year, there were only three incidents of black bears having physical contact with humans. And FYI, black bears are predominantly vegetarian, so they’re not killing us for food,” she said.

“Men ages 15-24 are 167 times more likely to kill someone than a black bear. Maybe we should be focusing on that or perhaps we should be spending our time on the issues Floridians have been begging us to fix — insurance, taxes, housing.”

Waldron argued, as others did during the bill’s House committee stops, that the greatest defense against bear encounters is to be responsible by securing trash and removing attractants from the home.

“This bill is based on falsely manufactured, nonsensical reasoning coming from what I assume is a group of overly emotional and hysterical people who try not to let facts get in the way of what they want to do, which is kill black bears,” she said.

Losses of habitat and unregulated hunting dwindled the Florida black bear population to between 300 and 500 animals in the 1970s, landing them on the “threatened species” list throughout most counties. Fifty years later, there are still only around 4,000 in the state, according to FWC.

Shoaf contended Thursday that the FWC number is a severe undercount. He pointed to a bear hunt FWC authorized in 2015 that officials halted in just two days after the killing of 295 bears, nearly 90% of which hunters shot on the first day.

House members voted 88-29 for the bill primarily along party lines, with Democrats mostly voting “no.” Some from each side of the aisle crossed over.

Republican Reps. Linda Chaney, Peggy Gossett-Seidman and David Smith broke ranks with their party and voted against the bill.

Democratic Reps. Christopher Benjamin, Daryl Campbell, Hillary Cassel, Kevin Chambliss and Tae Edmonds voted in favor.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

    February 15, 2024 at 7:13 pm

    Good evening America,
    Always remember:
    Everyone Should Avoid Pre-Judgeing Florida Legislation Until You Get Earl’s Take On It.
    All you bleeding heart Leftys need to know Florida is not all Big Citys and Theme Parks.
    Vast areas are as “Rural” as it gets anywhere on the planet and there’s Animals out there that can “Kill You Grave-Yard-Dead.
    We as a State went way too far in the “Protect Gators” to the point Gators became a Total safety hazard to Humans. We re-instated controlled Gator hunting and allowed citizens once again their Constituntal Right to Kill nusence Gators.
    Well Bears have been so over protected that we need to do the same common sense thing with Bears. Sage Floridians that live in Bear Country need the same rights restored to protect themselves, their families, and property.
    There-Fore all City-Folk, Serria Club Members, and Dook 4 Brains Leftys have no right to “Weigh-In” with their “TWISTED” opinions and are “Prohibited By Earl” from trying to cloud our Elected Officials Minds with their idiot comments on this Sage Bear Legislation ….. Thank you all for your understanding that your thoughts dont matter.
    I, Earl Pitts American, hereby order you to keep your comments on “LEFTY ISSUES ONLY” and not Real Issues that affect us Sage Real Floridians.
    So if you want to comment on Lefty Stuff thats fine we all get a kick out of your Perverse Sex Stuff, Social Justice Stuff, and other Twisted Lefty Stuff. But stay away from Real Stuff that matters to Real Floridians.
    Thank you,
    Earl Pitts American

    • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

      February 15, 2024 at 7:20 pm


  • My Take

    February 15, 2024 at 9:00 pm

    People used to hunt black bear to eat. Meat and fat I believe.

    Btw: most ammo that people would have in pistol or rifle is poorly suited for bear. It expands too shallowly in thick fur, hide, and fat and doesn’t reach deeper vital organs.

    • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

      February 16, 2024 at 6:40 am

      Good post my Besty Lefty. Keep in mind there is a boat-load of “Stopping Power” vidieo out there on the “Interweb” which is somewhat misleading in the respect that you are just going to fire one and be done.
      Life just dont work that way …. if a giant bear attacks or a human …. the attacker is getting “THE FULL CLIP” and I’m dropping the empty clip on the ground and slapping a new full clio back in.
      Thats how you should train.

  • Roberto Delcid

    February 20, 2024 at 8:14 am

    Shameful legislation. If people are afraid of animals, they should move out of the wildlife home.

Comments are closed.


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