Conservation Wildlife Management

Florida Rep Cites ‘Crack Bears’ in Effort to Legalize Killing Black Bears in Self Defense

Off-base references aside, the bill would allow Floridians to kill bears in self defense — something that's already legal in other states
Katie Hill Avatar
A black bear sits in a green field.
Florida's black bear population is on the rise. So is its human population, which means conflicts are likely to follow. Photograph by Daniel L Friend / Wirestock

A debate over black bears in a Florida House of Representatives committee meeting on Jan. 30 took a rather comedic turn when Rep. Jason Shoaf of Region 7 in the Panhandle started talking about bears on crack.

Shoaf’s comments, which were oddly reminiscent of the plot of the 2023 horror flick Cocaine Bear, were part of his closing statement to the nearly-two-hour-long public debate over a bill he introduced on Nov. 29. The bill calls for an exemption to penalties for killing black bears without permits or authorizations from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission when Floridians are defending themselves, their loved ones, or their property.

“We’re talking about the ones that are on crack, and they break your door down, and they’re standing in your living room growling and tearing your house apart,” Shoaf said. “When you run into one of these crack bears, you should be able to shoot it, period. And you shouldn’t have to pause or be afraid you’re gonna get arrested or harassed or pay fines. That’s just crazy.”

The concept behind the bill is a good one, proponents on the committee and on the roster of public testimony argued — especially as Florida’s black bear and human populations continue to grow and clash with each other in urban and rural areas. But many opponents pointed out that the FWCC is the only body with the authority to manage wildlife under the state constitution, a detail that Shoaf’s legislation overlooks. (His response to this argument was that the bill “is not a bear bill,” but a self-defense bill instead. He did not immediately reply to a request for comment.) 

Opponents also questioned whether the bill was redundant, since Floridians already have the right to defend themselves. However, as Shoaf and others have pointed out, there is currently no way to legally kill a black bear in Florida if it’s acting aggressively or even attacking you— at least, not without the looming threat of being charged with illegal take of wildlife. (Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law allows residents to kill other humans in self-defense during home break-ins, but not bears.) The only way that a bear attack victim could use this self-defense argument would be in a court of law, mid-prosecution.

While the hypothetical situation that Shoaf highlighted was an egregious one, it also refers to a string of forced entries by (sober) black bears everywhere from California to Connecticut. Ironically, both states are far less hunting-friendly than Florida but they still offer legal exceptions for killing black bears in self-defense

Shoaf’s bill would not allow for bear baiting, instigating a bear into a conflict, or animal cruelty, Shoaf says. Any person who takes a bear in self defense would be required to report it to FWCC within 24 hours. The agency, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, would also confiscate and dispose of the carcass.

Read Next: Body Cam Footage: Kodiak Bear Cubs Found Wandering Down Road in Florida, Thousands of Miles from Native Range

The bill passed out of the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee with a 16-9 vote along party lines. 

Black bears were removed from the state endangered species list in 2012. FWCC estimates the current black bear population of Florida is over 4,000 bears. A limited-entry hunt happened in 2015 and was shut down after the second day after hunters quickly harvested 295 bears. The FWCC had set a quota of 320 bears for the hunt.