Investment FLORIDA WILDLIFE CORRIDORS, or greenways, is the best way to help bears and other wildlife move through out their needed range even as Florida will continue to develop. We don’t want to live in a shopping mall; we want to keep parts of Florida wild.
A friend of mine, Mrs Mary Chapman, once described Stuart News reporter, Ed Killer, as “the only reporter in America who got her to read the sports page.” I feel the same way. Ed Killer’s past Sunday article entitled: “Bearing Down for the Bear Hunt,” was quite the read, and I have been thinking about it the past few days.
Bears….to think that they used to live right here in along the waters of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, and now there are none.
Today I thought I’d share a photo I have shared before, but it is certainly worth dusting off and bringing out of the archives again.
The above photos are from my mother’s book, “Sewall’s Point,” and shows Mr Reginald Waters with multiple black bears he killed on Hutchinson Island, a mother and two cubs, around 1918. The other is the “last bear shot on Hutchinson Island, 1926.” Historian, Alice Luckhardt, wrote a comprehensive piece on these black bears that once roamed our region. Here is an excerpt from a recent vignette:
“At one time, Florida black bears existed in fairly large numbers along the ocean coast between Jupiter and Fort Pierce, living in and among the mangroves and feeding on palmetto fruits and turtle eggs buried in the beach sand. However, as more people began settling the area, bears became unwelcome guests, and many were hunted and killed by early pioneers.
By the 1920s and early ’30s there were still a few wild black bears in the area. They found a tasty delight in honey and bee larvae from the numerous beehives in operation on Hutchinson Island at that time.
Jensen resident William Pitchford felt the only solution was to hunt down the bear that had been raiding his bee hives during the summer of 1931. Pitchford first thought to capture the bear using a steel trap he set out over several nights near the hives. The bear, however, was too smart to fall for that trap, avoiding it each night and still getting into the honey, destroying several hives.
Determined to end the bear’s raids, Pitchford, with the assistance of a neighbor, Vincent Wortham Sr., laid in wait one Saturday night, Aug. 8, 1931, with weapons in hand. As hoped, in the darkness of night, the bear appeared and the men turned on their flashlights. Pitchford immediately fired three times using his 303 Savage rifle, and Wortham fired his 32-20 Smith and Wesson revolver twice at the animal. The seriously wounded bear managed to scramble a short distance away before the two men later found him dead near the Pickerton farm. They managed to bring the 200-pound animal back to Jensen where photos documented the event, as this marked the last bear killed on Hutchinson Island.”
So, quite sad as far as I am concerned that we killed all the bears here. Let’s figure out how FWC, the Florida Wildlife Commission, the agency making the laws on bear hunting today “works.” —How do they fit into Florida government? How were they able to determine it is OK to shoot bears this season? For one thing FWC is not “under the governor,” a situation many state agencies would “kill for.” Oh, no pun intended… 🙂
Also, I must state that the structure of the agency is confusing like everything else in government.
There is “US Fish and Wildlife,” a federal agency, and then there is FWC, or the Florida Wildlife Commission, a state agency. One will also hear this same agency referred to as Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Why I am not sure. So Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) are the same thing. If anyone knows more about this please let me know….
In 2004 the agency, FWC. was restructured by an act of the Florida Legislature:
This excerpt below explains:
“The FWC was established with a headquarter in Tallahassee, the state capital on July 1, 1999 after an amendment to the Florida Constitution approved in 1998. The FWC resulted from a merger between the former offices of the Marine Fisheries Commission, Division of Marine Resources and Division of Law Enforcement of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP}, and all of the employees and Commissioners of the former Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) serves as the environmental regulatory agency for the state, enforcing environmental legislation regarding air and water quality, for example. In 2004, the Florida Legislature approved a reorganization of the FWC that integrated parts of the Division of Wildlife, Division of Freshwater Fisheries, and the Florida Marine Research Institute to create the ‘Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’ (FWRI) in St. Petersburg, Florida.It has over 600 employees. As of 2014 FWC had over 2,000 full-time employees, maintained the FWRI, five regional offices, and 73 field offices across the state.”
Looking at the structure one can see that the commissioners are at the top of FWC chart and the “people” are over the governor for DEP chart….
If the bears had a seat at the table, I wonder where they would be?
Full note from my historian mother when she sent the “last bear” photo:
“Jacqui, Here is a photograph of Bill Pitchford’s “last bear” that Alice Luckhart wrote about. I have a file on the Waters family who lived in Walton on Indian River Drive. The photograph of Russell Waters with the mother bear and two cubs had “1918” written on it. I am glad Ed Killer’s article explain that hunters will not be allowed to kill a mother with cubs. Reginal Waters Rice who supplied the photograph said his uncle Russell felt very bad about killing “the three bears.” Mom
When I was a kid, I had a favorite stuffed animal; he was orange bear with blue eyes and his name was “Beary Bear.” I carried him around until his eyes fell off and my mother sewed new ones back on. Over the years, all of his fur came off so he was bald.
There wasn’t a whole lot “to do” growing up in Stuart in the 1960s and 70s so a kid had to rely on the freedom of empty lots, friends, and his or her imagination to have any fun.
Before dinner, I used to climb to the top of a giant cedar tree in our back yard and look at the ocean and Indian River Lagoon from our house in St Lucie Estates, in Stuart. I carried Beary Bear up about forty feet with me and we talked about the black bears out there on Hutchinson Island and how there were just a few secret ones left, a few Mr Walters and the other pioneers couldn’t catch, and didn’t kill. That was fantasy.
Before modern man came and planted bean fields and produced honey, the bears ate turtle eggs, palmetto berries and the riches of the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River. But they they became a problem, so we “wiped them out.”
Isn’t it amazing to think of where we really live? A land where not too long ago a panther may have swum across the St Lucie Sound; or a black bear happily frolicked along the Indian River Lagoon? Where fish were so plentiful they kept you awake at night. What I don’t understand is why we “wiped them out.” I guess times were harder then and the mentality was 100% “man over nature” but it’s fun to imagine what it would be like if we hadn’t killed them all, or somehow, we brought them back.
Well, Beary Bear is long gone, and the bean farms have been replaced with million dollar homes and unimaginative condominiums. But I still have my imagination and somewhere out there, there’s a bear; I’m sure of it.