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DeSantis signs law allowing Floridians to shoot and kill bears in self-defense

Jack Prator and Max Chesnes, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a controversial bill allowing people to shoot and kill bears in self-defense. The measure sailed through the Republican-led Senate in a 24-12 vote in February.

The law, which takes effect July 1, allows killing bears if a person “reasonably believed” it was necessary to avoid death or serious injury to themselves, other people or family pets, as well as substantial damage to homes, according to the bill language.

Black bears were once a threatened species in Florida, but they recently saw stiffened protections under DeSantis. In 2020, the governor signed a bill that increased penalties for illegal bear hunting to protect them from poachers.

Bear hunting has been illegal in Florida since 1994, except for a limited season in October 2015.

Elizabeth Fleming, the senior Florida representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the governor’s latest move may be well intentioned, but it’s unnecessary.

“I’m just afraid there are going to be some terrible, unintended consequences where people are going to say we made a mistake here,” she said.

The law’s passage comes just weeks after a more than 400-pound black bear was found shot dead in an Apopka man’s yard June 6. The animal had a bullet hole in its left lung and the official cause of death was an “illegal kill,” according to records obtained by The Tampa Bay Times. Florida wildlife officials closed their investigation after they couldn’t determine who killed the bear.


Fleming said the law undercuts hard work being done by bear biologists for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Politicians are not well placed and do not have the proper knowledge to manage our wildlife,” Fleming said. “There are already agencies for that.”

Of the 87,000 recorded bear-related reports since 1980, slightly more than 1,000 callers said they were threatened, attacked or injured by a bear. The wildlife agency categorizes bear reports as threatening to a human if the caller says the animal clacked its teeth together, huffed, charged or chased them.

There is no record of human fatalities caused directly by black bears in Florida, according to wildlife officials.

Under the new law, people who shoot bears are required to notify the wildlife commission within 24 hours.

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