By Saturday night, hunting was called off in the east Panhandle and Central Florida regions. Reports by mid-Sunday would indicate that, in the east Panhandle region, nearly 300 percent of the limit on the number of bears to be taken already had been killed. While less dramatic, the number killed in the Central Florida region was 40 percent more than the approved limit there.
While the total recorded kills across the entire state was 25 less than the planned limit when the hunt was called off Sunday night, there is every likelihood, given the delays in reporting, that the overall state limit was met or exceeded.
There were reasons each range was given a limit. It was because each range’s population was believed to be able to absorb that level of culling and still be sustainable. The overall number of permitted kills (320) represents about 10 percent of the total statewide black bear population according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Assuming for the sake of argument that the regional limits were based on the share of the population believed to be in that region, the kill rate in the east Panhandle would amount to nearly 30 percent of the black bear population there.
What happened to sustainability?
Managing the actual number of animals killed, especially when that number is relatively small, isn’t easy. The range is large, the potential for multiple hunters to get kills before any of them know that others have killed a bear very, very high, and the authorized reporting period (appropriately) is a full 12 hours after a kill.
But there was one thing the commission did that seems to have set the whole program up for this eventuality.
They sold nearly 3,800 permits. That’s more than one permit per bear in the entire bear population, or more than 10 permits for every bear that legally could be taken.
Just for a very sloppy comparison, roughly 250,000 folks hunt anything in Florida each year, based on U.S. Census data from 2011. And something over 100,000 deer are killed by hunters in Florida each year. Call that roughly two and a half permits for every one deer killed. Given that not all hunters hunt deer, one might consider the 2.5-permits-1-kill ratio to be high. The ratio might be closer to 2-to-1 . . . or even something less. But applying the 2.5-permit-1-kill ratio, one could have expected 1,520 bear would have been killed. And we only were aiming for 320 . . . just over 20 percent of that number.
The commission’s staff seemed surprised at how many kills occurred over this first weekend of the bear season. But hunters could do the math, even if the commission’s staff didn’t.
The broader policy lesson may be about banking on human behavior. Give people a very limited opportunity to do something they would like to do, rarely have had the chance to do, and know how to do, and you’ll motivate people to make plans. Charge them a meaningful fee for the privilege, and one can be nearly certain that those who pay the price plan to cash in on the opportunity.
As for the bruins, their behavior was predictably vulnerable. They’ve gotten used to being around human beings without drawing fire; that, in fact, was the impetus for the hunt in the first place. That might have made them less cautious, easier targets for highly motivated hunters.
The 300+ bears never saw it coming. Neither, apparently, did the commission.