Thousands protest ahead of bear hunt that begins Saturday

- Thousands gathered in protest across 13 Florida cities on Friday in response to a ban on black bear hunting scheduled to lift on Saturday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to raise the 21-year ban in response to the large black bear population, said to have grown 10 times in size over the last two decades.

Local animal advocates gathered in Tampa, St Petersburg and Sarasota to voice their concerns against the week-long hunt.

“Going into this hunt is premature. You are saying to take out a certain percentage of the population, but you do not even know how much of a population we have," said Nicole Cordano, who organized the protest at Tampa's Lykes Gaslight Park.

According to the website for "Stop FL Bear Hunt," a survey of the Florida black bear population has not been completed since 2002. There is a survey underway, but not every county has been accounted for as of the start of the bear hunting season, according to animal advocates.

Some people argued the hunt is more about glory than population control.

“I’m heartbroken that human beings, in 2015, still get their jollies killing defenseless creatures," said Gael Murphy with Florida Voices for Animals. Murphy was a part of a group that first protested back in the 1970s to abolish Florida's black bear hunting due to a dying population.

The Florida black bear has not been on the endangered species list since 2012.

Governor Rick Scott spoke out on Friday in approval of the commissioners' decision to reopen the hunt.

“The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions' responsibility is to protect the wildlife in our state and also help protect the citizens, so they made the right decision in this case,” said Scott.

An estimated 3,000 hunters applied for bear hunting permits as of Friday.

“It’s always a conservation thing. If you get too many, then disease breaks out and starvation and stuff like that," said Charles Taylor, a hunter and owner of Charlie's Taxidermy in Pinellas Park.

Taylor, who mainly hunts deer, said he has never met a hunter who kills just to kill.

"They always save the meat, that’s first, and then the trophy is second," said Taylor.

Taylor said he has already had several hunters contact him to find out the cost of preserving their anticipated bear kill.

The Florida bear hunting season begins at dawn on Saturday, October 24, and runs through Friday, October 30.

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