'Stand your ground for bears' bill nears governor's desk; foes threaten suit

'This bill is strictly about self-defense,' Republican Sen. Corey Simon pf Tallahassee says
Posted at 5:58 PM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 17:58:59-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Conservationists are poised to initiate legal action should Florida's governor endorse a bill sanctioning the lethal removal of bears in situations where there is an imminent threat to humans, property, or pets.

The proposed legislation has sparked a contentious debate among Floridians, with opinions divided on whether it prioritizes safety or facilitates hunting.
From Destin to Daytona, encounters with Florida black bears have become increasingly common in neighborhoods, on boats, and on beaches. The images blowing up social media, but also a concern for state Republican Sen. Corey Simon, of Tallahassee, who said Florida has a significant safety concern that demands attention.

"Last year alone, Franklin County fielded 1,000 calls related to bear-related issues. It's truly a pervasive problem in this district," Simon remarked.

Simon is championing what some have dubbed the "Stand Your Ground for Bears" bill, which is nearing the end of its legislative journey with just the House's final approval required before reaching Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk.

If enacted, the bill would authorize the use of lethal force against bears under circumstances where there is a credible threat of "substantial damage" or "imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury" to a person, pet, or property.

"This bill is strictly about self-defense," Simon said "Just as we have the right to defend ourselves if someone were to break into our homes, we should have similar rights if a bear intrudes."

Simon assures there are safeguards in place to prevent the bill from devolving into a license for bear hunting, including prohibitions against using bait like food or intentionally placing oneself in harm's way.

However, critics like Katrina Shadix from the conservation group Bear Warriors United remain skeptical. She has argued that the bill's language is overly broad and has advocated for stricter measures to secure trash, which often attracts bears, rather than resorting to lethal means.

Shadix and others are mobilizing to send thousands of postcards to Gov. DeSantis' office, urging him to veto the bill if it reaches his desk. In addition, they are prepared to pursue legal action, contending that the proposed law encroaches upon the jurisdiction of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and thus violates the state constitution.

"This will exacerbate their extinction," Shadix said. "It's already bad now with the loss of habitat. We already have bear poaching rings in Florida."

While opposition to the bill appears certain, it remains uncertain whether DeSantis will lend his support. His past practice suggests he may withhold judgment until the bill is formally presented to him, leaving Floridians in suspense as they await the next steps in this contentious debate.