Animal Law Annual Report 2022-2023May 1, 2023
2023 Animal Law Legislative UpdateJune 9, 2023
By Briana Ringgold
Should regulated hunting serve as the preferred management strategy for every wildlife species in the State of Florida? That is the question Florida legislators controversially raised earlier this year with the introduction of identical bills, CS/HJR 1157 and CS/SJR 1234, in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. These bills proposed to amend the Florida Constitution by inserting Section 28 into Article I’s Declaration of Rights to declare hunting the preferred management strategy for all wildlife species in the State of Florida.
Fundamentally, Section 28 is premised on Section 379.104, Florida Statutes, which states that “[t]he Legislature recognizes that hunting, fishing, and the taking of game are a valued part of the cultural heritage of Florida and should be forever preserved for Floridians.” Under that statute, “The Legislature further recognizes that these activities play an important part in the state’s economy . . . .” Specifically, Section 28 proposes that “[f]ishing, hunting, and the taking of fish and wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, shall be preserved forever as a public right and the preferred means of responsibly managing and controlling fish and wildlife.” Additionally, Section 28 maintains that the inclusion of this new “section does not limit the authority granted to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission [FWC] under Section 9 of Article IV.” In short, while Section 28 promotes regulated hunting as the “preferred means” for managing any wildlife population in the State of Florida, “[a]s a result of FWC’s constitutional authority, the Legislature is constitutionally prohibited from adopting statutes in conflict with rules adopted by FWC to execute such authority.”
Undisputedly, there are circumstances where regulated hunting is instrumental in swiftly curtailing wildlife populations that pose a substantial threat to the surrounding environment. For example, FWC operates a regulated hunt annually in the Florida Everglades to reduce the invasive, deadly, and rapidly proliferating Burmese python. However, unlike the Burmese python, a number of wildlife populations likely do not present such a deadly threat to their environment. On the contrary, each wildlife species is unique and likely requires its own tailored method of population management, which may depend—among other factors—on population size, habitat, and level of threat to the environment. Additionally, critics provide strong objections, from animal cruelty to trophy hunting concerns, to the general use of regulated hunting as a management strategy.
FWC’s recent management of the Florida black bear highlights some of those concerns and provides a thought-provoking example of how regulated hunting may simply counteract (and threaten to unravel) past agency conservation efforts. Hailed as “one of Florida’s most successful conservation efforts,” FWC rebuilt Florida’s black bear population, which currently boasts over 4000 members. Previously, the Florida black bear had been on Florida’s Threatened and Endangered Species list for several decades, from 1974–2012. However, only three years after the black bear’s triumphant removal from Florida’s Threatened and Endangered Species list, FWC organized a controversial bear hunt in four bear management units (BMUs) to curb the resurgent black bear population. Notably, an overwhelming majority (75%) of the 40,000 public comments disagreed with FWC’s proposed hunt. Moreover, many citizens voiced concerns that the hunt created an opportunity merely for trophy hunting. FWC simply responded that “[s]ome hunters may wish to display their successful harvest and this is a widely accepted tradition.” Nevertheless, the bear hunt, alarmingly, concluded with the culling of 304 black bears in just two days. FWC had initially planned for the hunt to last the entire week. Additionally, FWC also admitted that the number of black bears killed on the hunt’s inaugural day “was higher than expected in the East Panhandle and Central BMUs, [but] the statewide total was not exceeded.”
FWC’s early termination of the hunt suggests that perhaps in this instance, regulated hunting as a management strategy proved too efficient for the recently rebuilt black bear population. As the Florida circuit judge who denied injunctive relief to the plaintiffs challenging the hunt opined, FWC “could have had some better timing” for the hunt. Thus, as evidenced, regulated hunting may open the door to undermining past conservation efforts in just a matter of days. Nevertheless, despite the alarmingly swift results of the 2015 bear hunt, FWC updated its 2019 State Comprehensive Florida Black Bear Management Plan to include regulated hunting for future black bear management.[xviii] Additionally, in the updated Management Plan FWC also indicated that hunting license sales exceeded $375,000 for the brief two-day hunt.[xix] In short, regulated hunting may be incredibly profitable for the State. Indeed, as noted above, Section 379.104, Florida Statutes, recognizes that “these activities play an important part in the state’s economy.”[xx]
Despite the foregoing concerns, the proposed amendment received overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate.[xxi] In order to become part of the Constitution, it must now be approved by sixty percent of Florida voters.[xxii]
 Fla. H.R. Subcomm. on Agric., Conservation, and Resiliency, CS/HJR 1157 (2023) (proposed FLA. Const. art. I, § 28), https://www.myﬂoridahouse.gov/Sec<ons/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=77941&SessionId=99 (last visited May 28, 2023); Fla. S, Comm. on Env’t. and Nat. Resources, CS/SJR 1234 (2023) (proposed FLA. Const. art. I, § 28), https://www.ﬂsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2023/1234/?Tab=BillHistory (last visited May 28, 2023).
 Fla. H.R. Subcomm. on Agric., Conservation, and Resiliency, CS/HJR 1157 (2023) Final Bill Analysis (May 1, 2023), https://www.myﬂoridahouse.gov/Sec<ons/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=h1157z.ACR.DOCX&DocumentTyp e=Analysis&BillNumber=1157&Session=2023 (last visited May 28, 2023).
 FLA. STAT. § 379.104;
 CS/HJR 1157, supra note 1.
 Final Bill Analysis, supra note 2.
 Governor Ron DeSantis Announces 2022 Florida Python Challenge®, Fla. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comm’n , https://myfwc.com/news/all- news/python-challenge-622/ (last visited May 28, 2023).
 Florida Black Bear, Fla. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comm’n, https://myfwc.com/hunting/bear/ (last visited May 28, 2023).
 Black Bear Research, Fla. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comm’n, https://myfwc.com/research/wildlife/terrestrial-mammals/bear/ (last visited May 28, 2023).
 2015 Florida Black Bear Hunt Summary Report, Fla. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comm’n, https://myfwc.com/media/1917/2015-ﬂorida-black-bear- hunt-report.pdf (last visited May 28, 2023).
 Craig Pittman, State Wildlife Oﬃcials Vote to Bring Back Bear Hunts, TAMPA BAY TIMES (Apr, 15, 2015), https://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wildlife/state-wildlife-commission-may-vote-to-bring-back-bear- hunts-banned-21/2225561/ (last visited May 28, 2023).
 Nick Wiley, Important Facts You Need to Know About Black Bear Conservation in Florida, Fla. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comm’n (June 22, 2015), https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulle<ns/10b15d4 (last visited May 28, 2023).
 See Florida Black Bear Management Plan, Fla. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comm’n (Dec. 11, 2019), https://myfwc.com/media/21923/2019-ﬂorida- black-bear-management-plan.pdf.
 Pittman, supra note 11.
 2015 Florida Black Bear Hunt Summary Report, supra note 10, at 3.
 Craig Pittman, Judge Won’t Halt Florida Bear Hunt, TAMPA BAY TIMES (Oct. 1, 2015), https://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wildlife/judge-wont-halt-ﬂorida-bear-hunt/2247986/ (last visited May 28, 2023).
[xviii] See Florida Black Bear Management Plan, Fla. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comm’n (Dec. 11, 2019), https://myfwc.com/media/21923/2019-ﬂorida- black-bear-management-plan.pdf.
[xix] Id. at 146.
[xx] FLA. STAT. § 379.104.
[xxi] Jackie Mitchell, Florida voters will vote on constitutional right to hunt and fish, The Capitolist, https://thecapitolist.com/floridians-will-vote-on-constitutional-right-to-hunt-and-fish/ (last visited June 2, 2023).