I OPPOSE BLACK BEAR HUNTING IN FLORIDA.
The 2015 Florida Black hunt changed many of our lives, forever.
This is my story below that I am emailing to the FWC commissioners.
What is your story and how did this hunt affect your life?
The commissioners need to hear it.
In 2015, I embarked on a journey that would forever change me; I learned that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was considering a bear hunt for the first time in 21 years, and on June 24, 2015, in a devasting blow, the FWC voted to have a black bear hunt.
It was time for me to switch gears from protesting circuses, and greyhound racing, to now take on a government agency, the NRA, the SCI, and trophy hunters. With time being of the essence, I quickly got to work and created a campaign called Stop The Florida Bear Hunt (STFBH). Stop The Florida Bear Hunt would later be at the forefront of the anti-bear trophy hunting movement.
We staged a 14 city protest as a last-ditch effort to stop the hunt. The protest was on October 23, 2015, the day before the hunt took place. Our efforts did little to sway the hearts and minds of the FWC Commissioners who voted to have the hunt, and the following day the bear hunt began.
I headed to Lake City as a “Bear Monitor” at check station 17.
My objective was to document and report the number of bears brought into the check station. There were 33 check stations statewide — each station had bear monitors. The purpose of the bear monitors was to ensure that the FWC called off the hunt as soon as they reached their bear kill quota.
In my lifetime, I have witnessed horrible animal atrocities from investigating circus abuse to raiding illegal slaughterhouses. When I graduated with my degree in photography and design, I would have never thought I’d be using it to document horrific animal abuse.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I call the worst day of my life. Lifeless black bear corpses were brought in.
I will never forget the apathy the trophy hunters displayed for the lives they had just taken. Hunters laughed and celebrated their kills as if they had just won the lottery. They handled the bodies as if they were trash.
I was shattered to my core, numb, yet resolute and faithful to my convictions I carried on. The bear hunt was called off early due to the alarming number of bears killed on the first day of the hunt. In the aftermath, a total number of 304 bears were killed, but that doesn’t account for the bears that weren’t brought into one of the 33 check stations statewide.
Every single bear brought in to check station 17 left with a piece of my heart. Of all the bears I saw that day, nothing touched me as profoundly as the slain nursing mother bear whose swollen breasts were a reminder of the now orphaned cubs she left behind.
Public outrage grew as photographs and stories surfaced in the wake of the hunt. We weren’t going to let the FWC get away with another unscientific, undemocratic hunt. We put the pressure on them. They would soon learn that their actions had consequences that would forever change the dynamics of the FWC.
This time we were prepared for a battle, our previous 14 city protest had now grown to 28 cities. We scheduled it for the weekend before a final vote was made on whether or not to proceed with a 2016 Florida black bear hunt. Our protest garnered mass media attention, with hundreds of protestors showing up to each protest location. After the protests, we prepared for a trip to Apalachicola, Florida.
On June 22, 2016, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 against a 2016 black bear hunt. They also voted to have staff gather more information so that they could again vote the following year on whether to hold a 2017 hunt.
This was a bittersweet victory as we knew the fight was not over and would be on the table again in 2017.
Our campaign, Stop The Florida Bear Hunt, continued to evolve and gain momentum putting even more pressure on the FWC.
On April 19, 2017, FWC Commissioners agreed to revamp the bear management plan and report back in two years, which came after a motion to hold a 2017 bear hunt was voted down 4-3.
The FWC also stated that there would be no hunt in 2019, that they would only revisit where they were at in the process of revising the bear management plan.
Following our victory for the bears in Florida, we changed our name from Stop The Florida Bear Hunt to Bear Defenders. Bear Defenders was created with a mission to end bear hunting across the U.S. and provide other states with the tools needed to take action against bear hunting in their State.
Adam Sugalski owns One Protest (www.OneProtest.org) and is an ardent animal activist in Florida