The new law requires that a “person reasonably believed that his or her action was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or herself or to another, (or) to a pet… or substantial damage to a dwelling.” [ FWC ]
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DeSantis signs controversial bear bill

Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 20 signed a controversial measure that will bolster self-defense arguments for people who kill bears on their property.

The bill about bears (HB 87) provides a sort of stand-your-ground defense for people who shoot bears to defend themselves or property. But with bear hunting long a controversial issue in Florida, opponents of the bill said it would lead to increased deaths of the once-threatened animals.

Opponents said they will consider legal action to try to halt the law, which is scheduled to take effect July 1.

Under the bill, shooters will have to notify the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission within 24 hours of bears being killed. They also will be prohibited from possessing or selling bear carcasses. Legal immunity will not be available to people who provoke or lure bears.

Similar bills were filed in past years but did not pass the Legislature. This year, however, the proposal sponsored by Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, and Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, gained traction in September after Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith said his rural community was “being inundated and overrun by the bear population.”

Shoaf and Simon represent Franklin County as part of sprawling, largely rural districts.

But animal-rights activists argued the bill will create an “open season” on bears.

“Increasing the killing of Florida’s iconic black bears under the guise of self-defense –– without requiring proof of actual danger — poses serious public safety risks and undermines responsible wildlife management,” Kate MacFall, Florida state director at the Humane Society of the United States, said in a prepared statement.

MacFall said the bill conflicts with regulations of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has the constitutional authority to manage wildlife. She added her organization “will continue to explore our options moving forward to ensure Florida’s bears are protected.”

In an interview last week, Smith made clear that while he voiced alarm over FWC policies, he did not press for passage of this specific bill.

“I didn’t start complaining to FWC about the bear problem to get a new law passed,” he said. “People were not getting the service handled properly by FWC when they reported bear problems. They would tell them ‘ring a bell’ and we needed better solutions. There was not a sense of urgency, so I got involved.”

The sheriff said he later met with FWC and they worked to set up a revised set of protocols. “They gave it a higher level of priority; that was my goal,” he said.

“Rep. Shoaf came up with the idea,” Smith said. “I went to one committee meeting and testified. I do not have a problem with the law, but my priority was getting concerns with Franklin County met, and getting better service.”

In a visit to Apalachicola last month, Simon voiced support for the new bill.

“I think it’s great policy,” he said. “There was some ambiguity in FWC rules. We needed to clarify what those rules were to protect families. This rule takes away confusion as to how a family can protect themselves in their dwelling.”

Simon said he met with FWC, as well as both proponents and opponents of the bill. He said the law has been drawn so that not all killing of bears is protected.

“It will be up to law enforcement and FWC,” he said. “If they’ve proven if those incidents are unwarranted, they will be prosecuted.”

One woman in Lanark Village, where bears frequently can be spotted in backyards, wrote on Facebook last week that people who feed bears, knowingly or unknowingly, are largely to blame.

“It has been one week since our dog Charlie was killed by a mama bear with three cubs in our yard. I know she was protecting her babies but she killed our baby,” she wrote. “We have learned in the last week that several of you who live in the Lanark area are throwing out food for these bears. 

“Bears are wild animals and it is against the law to feed them,” she wrote. “That’s the reason we have so many roaming around our community. They are not Yogi Bear or Teddy Bears, they are dangerous, especially a sow with cubs.

“I will turn you into officials if I find out who is feeding them,” the woman warned, on a public Facebook page. “It’s just a matter of time ‘til a child or an adult is harmed by one. Starting July 1 bears can be shot if they come in your yard and you feel threatened. All of you who are feeding them will be up in arms. I suggest you look in the mirror because you have caused this dilemma.”

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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