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The Lingering Stench of Death: Witnessing the Developers’ War on Florida’s Black Bears

The photo essay below contains images of an extremely graphic nature, which have intentionally been placed “below the fold” on this page. They are displayed here not for the purpose of gratuitous sensationalism, but to expose to the civilized portion of mankind the true impact of a policy-making structure utterly corrupted by powerful financial interests and of a culture possessed by demonic anthropocentrism. These images document the death of 18 beautiful, innocent, sentient creatures who were denied the right to follow their unique paths through life in an environment that was ideally suited to their wants and needs. Every drop of blood symbolizes not merely a loss of life but a loss of decency, a perversion of science, an affront to democracy, and an indelible stain on the character of the State of Florida.

But these images, powerful as they are, remain a grossly inadequate means of communication. For they fail to convey to the viewer the smell of death and the onset of decomposition, a putrescence that lingers not just over the blood-soaked ground of the game check stations but over the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the administration of Governor Rick Scott. They do not record the cries of the victims as bullets or arrows entered their bodies – cries lost deep in the woods, heard only by the insensate killers, far from the respected chambers of human power and the television screens of contented consumers. They do not transmit the pain that was felt, the sense of confusion, panic, and fear in the moments before death – feelings that we, too, are capable of, but which we fail to acknowledge in our fellow animals. They do not record the fate or relay the emotions of orphaned cubs, left to fend for themselves many months before nature intended, grieving the loss of their mothers, and poorly prepared to meet the challenges of a human-dominated world that has set itself against even this most iconic representative of “the real Florida.”

Over the weekend of October 24-25, 2015, that “real Florida” was dealt a blow that will prove to be mortal in all the days that follow. The Florida bear hunt, portrayed by the FWC as a science-based, conservative, and well-regulated policy to manage the black bear population, was none of those things, as this author and others have documented elsewhere. The Florida bear hunt should be understood for what it really was: a turning point in the relationship between Florida’s invasive human population and all the other species who lived here first, and a victory for the insatiable greed and myopic ignorance of the property-developer complex that controls the policies of that human population. Having permanently destroyed most of the bears’ natural habitat, the human infestation – now just under 20 million and increasing every week by more than the total population of black bears – entered the few isolated pockets of “real Florida” left for the bears and sent an unmistakable message:

You will not be allowed to have any more land than the areas to which we have confined you (even though our bear biologists, after five years of careful study, said you should be given more usable habitat). Although our behavior is responsible for human-bear conflicts, we will punish you for our own failures. And we won’t just slap you on the wrist, as we do to our own kind. No, we will enter your ancestral homes, follow your paw prints through your beloved forest, murder you, rip open your stomachs, feed your guts to the vultures, leave your dependent children to starve to death or be killed by coyotes, and promise to do all of this to you again, at any time of our choosing, all under the banner of “conservation.”

A predictable target for anti-hunt activists, the hunters who carried out this murder spree are the largely unwitting shock troops of the developer elite, who will not object in the slightest to popular identification of the wrong villain. Separation of the proximate from the ultimate cause of this atrocity is essential if the blood flow is to be stanched, but it requires a transformation of human behavior that extends far beyond trash-management in bear country – a transformation inimical to elite interests, and effectively resisted by their co-opted hunters. Every shot fired in the name of bear-population management not only pierced the flesh of an innocent victim, but repelled perception of the obvious fact that the wrong population was being managed.1 And every hunter enforcing the State’s depraved new definition of sustainability2 within currently “available habitats” guaranteed that much of the habitat that could potentially be made available for bears (and the other forms of wildlife about which hunters claim to care) will, in due course, become habitat for humanity. In the anthropocene, black bears are doomed to extinction by their failure to live in houses, take out mortgage loans, drive cars, and shop at Wal-Mart. No amount of “eco-tourism” can ever compete with the profits to be derived from ever-expanding human activity. Thus, the blood dripping from the tailgates of pick-up trucks left a trail not just in the sandy soil of the Ocala National Forest but in the fabric of a human society organized around the accumulation of wealth by an overweening ruling class.

When the humans issued their ceasefire late on 10/25, the official death toll released by the FWC was 295 bears, slightly less than 10% of the estimated population.3 That figure will almost certainly be revised upward due to poor command-and-control of the human forces, excludes an under-reporting problem of unknown dimensions, and fails to account for the “collateral damage” of orphaned cubs and wounded bears who will die later, plus the ripple effect of reduced fertility rates due to the extermination of so many adults of reproductive age. None of those omissions should for one moment be considered accidental: any additional enemy losses are always desirable for the conquering force.

Now look upon the casualties of their war, and never forget. (Warning, Graphic Images Below)

In Memoriam

[Every image can, and SHOULD, be viewed full-size by clicking on it. (Images open in a new window/tab) For live weights, reduce by 5.6lbs for the lifting net and increase by 25-30lbs if field-dressed. All photographs by author, taken at the Altoona Check Station in the Central Bear Management Unit.]

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Richard Foster lives in Central Florida. His writing appears at www.DailyKumquat.com.

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