Florida officials have said no to another statewide bear hunt this year.
In a vote of 4-3, and after a daylong hearing attended by about 100 people, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission on Wednesday voted against holding a 2016 hunt.
The decision came after worldwide outcry against the Sunshine State last October as animal rights activists lashed out against efforts to cull a growing bear population where growth has encroached on habitat and human-bear interactions have increased.
Many decried cruelty by state hunters after it was revealed that last year's hunt and the killing of 304 bears in two days, included 36 lactating females whose cubs were rendered motherless. Wildlife officials later responded that they would likely survive.
The decision this week was met with relief on social media.
"Great news for Florida bears," the Humane Society of the United States Tweeted upon news of the no-hunt vote.
Online petitions had been circulated by animal rights proponents who argued that bears remain endangered and hunting amounts to trophy killing.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida was among groups urging supporters to contact lawmakers and FFWC commissioners to seek a moratorium on such black bear hunts, calling it the "best course of action."
The group called for stronger research on habitat as well as availability of food supply to learn if the number of bears in the state are outpacing needed resources.
They also are seeking data from last year's bear hunt to determine if hunting truly does harm the current population as well as more funding to help communities educate themselves on human-bear interactions and safe practices such as bear-proofing trash.
"The outcomes of last year’s bear hunt included the number of bears killed exceeding allowances in two of the four hunted subpopulations, as well as numerous hunting infractions from baiting, to taking underweight bears and lactating mothers," conservancy officials noted on their website.
"The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, while not against sustainable hunting, is opposed to hunting Florida black bears due to a number of concerns including the lack of scientific information on whether the current populations can sustain these losses and remain viable, as well as whether this is effective in reducing bear-human conflict — the real issue at hand," the group added.
"Florida’s black bear population is already experiencing large losses due to high numbers of roadkills and bears being euthanized rather than relocated due to adverse bear-human interaction — often related to unsecured garbage."
The October 2015 hunt, a first in the state since 1994, was scheduled for a week. It ended after just two days when hunters closed in quickly on their goal of 321 bears. Grisly photos of bloody bear carcasses being hauled away on trucks struck a nerve on social media, earning the Sunshine State bad publicity for approving the cull.
In the aftermath, several counties and dozens of cities passed resolutions opposing such hunts. Opponents also argued that the state had ignored science, acting on data they said was inconclusive.
Wildlife officials put estimates of Florida's current bear populations at about 4,350, noting their numbers are on the rise. Their habitat, statewide, is diverse, from Eglin in the Northwest Panhandle to the Big Cypress area on the state's southwest coast near the Everglades. As recently as 2011, however, black bears were listed as threatened.
This year's meeting, held in Eastpoint, Florida, had little of the fanfare of 2015, when residents showed up wearing bear costumes to protest.
State wildlife officials are expected to revisit the need for another hunt in 2017. Noted Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski: "I'm leaning toward a pause. I don't think a pause means hunting goes away forever."