Black bears show us how to save wild Florida

A young Florida black bear trips a motion-sensing camera in the pine flatwoods of the Hendrie Ranch in south-central Florida. Bears were in every county in the early 1800s; now they're more isolated. Private lands compliment public lands to provide essential habitat and corridor connections. Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.

I am a multi-generation Floridian and a photographer focused on wild Florida. I’m also a lifelong hunter who has killed my share of deer and hogs, so when I decided to document the first bear hunt in 21 years, I tried to keep an open mind.

I met my first Florida black bear up-close nine years ago when biologist Joe Guthrie was fitting it with a GPS tracking collar in a forested section of a cattle ranch in south-central Florida. What Guthrie and colleagues taught me about bears and their habitat needs inspired me to propose the Florida Wildlife Corridor campaign in 2009, followed by a pair of 1,000-mile treks to document the corridor — a statewide network of wildlife habitat that is still connected and can still be saved.

A young Florida black bear trips a motion-sensing camera in the pine flatwoods of the Hendrie Ranch in south-central Florida. Bears were in every county in the early 1800s; now they’re more isolated. Private lands compliment public lands to provide essential habitat and corridor connections. Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.

Last week’s bear hunt had been on my calendar since the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, authorized it in June. When I arrived at the Rock Creek Run hunter check station on Oct. 24, I didn’t really know what to expect. When the first dead bear was hoisted off of a tailgate that morning while news crews clamored for angles of the 23-year-old woman who shot it, I was more focused on documenting the moment than what I was actually witnessing.

By two hours after sunset, when the 22nd bear was weighed and measured — a 450-pound male with a flawless coat majestic even in death — my heart was heavy from all that I’d seen. But the strongest —> Read More

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