Coyotes and Florida’s controversial bear hunt

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A controversy regarding a black bear hunt in Florida is making the news. In late October the state’s Game and Freshwater Fish Commission allowed hunting of black for the first time. The hunt was to permit bear hunting for seven days, but in just two days 295 bears were killed, and the commission halted further hunting. Some were opposed to allowing the hunt, but Florida biologists pointed out that the state’s bear population had increased from several hundred in the 1970s to more than 3,000 today. They said that hunting was the only way to control the population. They also stated that 32 of 41 bear-inhabited states allow bear hunting, including the southeastern states of Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and North and South Carolina.
Floridian black bears inhabit not only national forests, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries, but also invade suburbs and other residential areas, including some around Orlando, where they feed on garbage and other discarded food. Effective securing of garbage and other food attractants is recommended to discourage bears from invading residential areas. I find it interesting that Florida, with 19.89 million residents is inhabited by more than 3,000 black bears, whereas Alabama, with only 4.85 million people, is home to only a few hundred bears!
Alabama’s bears are confined mostly to the swampy lowlands north of Mobile Bay, with a few resident bears in extreme northeastern counties.
Occasional stragglers have been reported in Lee, Macon, and Chambers counties and one was sighted in the Lake Martin area near Eclectic.
I read recently that coyotes often prey on fawns. A study conducted recently at Fort Rucker, Alabama by Angela Jackson, an Auburn University graduate student, revealed that 65 percent of deer fawns were killed by coyotes. Coyote predation on fawns, conjoined with too many does being legally harvested could result in a sizable decline in deer populations. In the 1980s, deer biologists were of the opinion that there was an overpopulation of deer in many parts of the state, and a liberal harvest of does was permitted in many areas. At the time, coyote predation was not a problem. Biologists are currently considering recommending reducing the number of does allowed to be killed now that coyotes are killing large numbers of fawns.
When we moved to the country 29 years ago, cottontail rabbits were abundant on the property, as were swamp rabbits. Cottontails are now scarce, and swamp rabbits have disappeared. Coyotes may be responsible for these trends. Wild turkeys were frequently seen, but no longer. My dogs spend much of the time patrolling the property during the day, and I suspect the virtual absence of turkeys may be the result of my dogs’ activities. I still see deer frequently, but they pay scant attention to my dogs.
The late Merrell Jones once told of seeing a “long-tailed bobcat.” It’s possible that the animal he described was a jaguarundi.
Husky Kirkwood tells me that one or more hunters on his place saw critters that resembled jaguarundis. Warning to hunters. If you see something that looks like a long-tailed bobcat, don’t shoot it. It may be a jaguarundi, and killing one can get you in a heap of trouble.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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