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Conservationists amp up the intensity in calling on DeSantis to veto bear-shooting bill


Conservationists amp up the intensity in calling on DeSantis to veto bear-shooting bill

Jun 11, 2024 | 1:44 pm ET
By Mitch Perry
Conservationists amp up the intensity in calling on DeSantis to veto bear-shooting bill
Florida black bear: Credit: Tim Donovan, FWC

Among the bills that Gov. Ron DeSantis will soon have to act on is a measure that would allow people to kill bears in self-defense, and conservation and environmental groups in Florida are urging their members to ask the governor to veto it.

The bill (HB 87), dubbed the “Self Defense Act,” says that an individual would not be subject to any administrative, civil, or criminal penalty for killing a bear if that person “reasonably believed” it was necessary to avoid an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to themselves or another person, their pets, or their “dwelling.”

Conservationists amp up the intensity in calling on DeSantis to veto bear-shooting bill
Rep. Jason Shoaf via Florida House

Panhandle House Republican Jason Shoaf sponsored the measure. He made national news when discussing what bears he was referring to in a committee meeting during the legislative session earlier this year.

“We’re talking about the ones that are on crack, and they break your door down, and they’re standing in your living room, growling and tearing your house apart,” Shoaf said on January 30. “When you run into one of these crack bears, you should be able to shoot it, period. And you shouldn’t have to pause or be afraid that you’re gonna get arrested or harassed or pay fines and penalties. That’s just crazy.”

In a message to its members, Sierra Club Florida chapter director Susannah Randolph says the premise of the bill is faulty.

“It was built upon Rep. Jason Shoaf’s bald-faced lie that Florida faces an epidemic of ‘crack bears’ that are ingesting illegal drugs and destroying people’s homes, and that Floridians don’t already have the right to defend themselves,” Randolph writes. “There have been zero people killed by ‘crack bears’ in Florida, and there are zero reasons why HB 87 should be signed into law. Tell Gov. DeSantis to protect our black bears and veto this horrible bill today!”

A form letter that Defenders of Wildlife urges Floridians to send to DeSantis argues the proposed law is unconstitutional.

“Article IV, section 9, of the Florida Constitution establishes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and grants the FWC the regulatory and executive powers of the state concerning wild animal life, freshwater aquatic life, and marine life. This Act violates this provision of the constitution because it specifies that a person who kills a bear under ill-defined conditions is not subject to any administrative, civil, or criminal penalties under certain circumstances.”

The organization adds in the form letter that, instead, the Legislature should appropriate $600,000 to Franklin and “other rural and underserved counties to enable regular trash pick-up and provide bear-secure trash receptacles which would effectively eliminate human-bear interaction and the need for this Act.”


In a separate form letter, Florida Conservation Voters notes that the bill “will be a nightmare for law enforcement, and it could lead to dangerous situations for residents.” They add that it “will result in numerous defenseless, orphaned cubs who will be left to starve.”

More than 38,000 people have signed a petition listed on change.org urging the governor to veto HB 87.

Other groups with form letters for the public to send to DeSantis include the Florida Springs Council and Florida Wildlife Federation.

Black bears (the only bear that lives in Florida) were labelled an endangered species by the FWC in the 1970s but, after decades of statewide protections and management, the agency determined in 2012 that they no longer faced a high risk of extinction and they were removed from the state threatened list, according to a legislative analysis.

FWC estimated the statewide bear population at approximately 4,050, according to a 2017 report — the last time it provided an estimate.

Conservationists amp up the intensity in calling on DeSantis to veto bear-shooting bill
Republican State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, representing Monroe County and part of Miami-Dade. Credit: State Senate

The measure passed mostly along party lines in the House and Senate, with a few Republicans joining Democrats in opposing it. Still, on the Senate floor, Miami Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez said that while bears might be more prevalent in the rural areas of the state, a bear appeared on the streets of South Florida last year.

“To me, this bill is about safety and protecting our families on our property,” she said. “I don’t live in North Florida. I live in the southernmost district. I live in Homestead, but I actually had a bear on my block, which is pretty rare. But I do think that it’s important for each and every Floridian in each and every district, not just North Florida, have the ability to protect their families.”

The Legislature sent HB 87 to DeSantis on Friday, June 7. He has until June 22 to either sign or veto the bill. If he doesn’t act, the measure will become law on July 1.