An Artist’s Visual Fight to Save Black Bears

Florida Black Bear Painting - Art by Nathan Miller


Most of my art is inspired by nature and our connection with the natural world. And while most of my work depicts this theme, some of it attempts to address the bigger topic of what we’re losing. While we, as humans, encroach upon the natural ecosystem, we threaten so many of the species that were there before us. The most intelligent of these species on land in North America, according to many wildlife biologists, are bears, the most common of which is the black bear.

314 black bears were just killed in New Jersey. Hunts like this take place around the country every year, and it’s always a heart-sinking time for those who care about these unique, timid, intelligent and beautiful animals.

Black Bears in Florida

I live in Florida. We had a hunt a few years ago. And while many Floridians didn’t even know black bears existed in the state, word got out that they were overpopulated. At least that’s what we were told.

Development is an enormous problem in the state of Florida. While people keep moving into the state, development keeps expanding into natural habitat. One hundred years ago Florida was wild. But today there are around 20 Million people living here. The Florida black bear population during this time was diminished to the point of near extinction. In the 1970s there were only a few hundred left in the wild. But, because of conservation efforts, the bear population rebounded to around 4 thousand. And even though much of the state has been paved over, about half is still habitable to bears.

The Florida Black Bear Hunt

When trophy hunters heard about the healthy population of bears, they were eager to bring back hunting in the state of Florida. They got their way in October of 2015. A species that was safe for decades, was now targeted. Within just a few days, 298 Florida black bears were killed.

A movement, led by Adam Sugalski, to stop the hunt was unsuccessful in 2015, but because Adam and bear advocates did not give up, they were victorious in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. A movement across Florida, which included constant pleas and personal appeals to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, helped to prevent more bears from being killed. Yet, another hunt may loom just around the corner.

In New Jersey, similar efforts went unheard. Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey, gave lip service to bear advocates, but, ultimately, never intervened to stop the hunt. Those who did fight to prevent what they saw as unnecessary cruelty against such an intelligent and timid animal, were once again ignored while trophy hunters descended upon the bears.

Reflection – a collaboration with Adam Sugalski

Adam Sugalski and Nathan Miller

After 2015, in order to help stop future bear hunts, Adam Sugalski (left) approached me about an idea. He asked if I could paint something that could be sold in order to raise funds to protect our bears. And so, I painted this piece called Reflection. It depicts a reflection of what once was in the state of Florida. It delineates the disappearing species that once thrived in our state. And it reveals that the Florida black bear is vulnerable to the same fate if we don’t change course. Half the proceeds of the original will go to One Protest. One Protest is Adam’s organization that fights to protect our bears and other exploited animals. This piece is still available. 😉


Overpopulation and the dangers posed by bears, are usually the excuses used to hunt them. But, as someone from a state with between one and two million alligators and 700 thousand deer, I don’t feel threatened by 4 thousand bears with a diet that’s 80 percent plants, 15 percent insects, and 5 percent animal matter. I’m not afraid of a species that is known for being timid and has never killed one person in the state’s history.

So, why do we hunt them? Why are we appalled by the killing of dolphins and apes, but allow the indiscriminate killing of a species comparable in intellect? I think we’re just numb to tradition and most of us devalue the real value of wildlife. But we don’t have to let tradition prevent us from finding better solutions to address how we can coexist with bears. Through land conservation, bear safe garbage bins, and a concerted effort to educate the public, we can prevent more needless loss of life.

Where Do We Go From Here?

After contemplating the loss of our ecosystem, the hunting of bears, and the future of our planet, I was moved to depict such themes in another painting. The piece below is called “Where do we go from here?” It looks to the future, asking questions like “What will happen to the innocent ones as the world below their feet disappears?” and “who, among us, will fight for them?”

Like the little girl in the painting, will we stand with the animals as well? Will we fight to protect this incredible, unique, and vibrant ecosystem?

I sure hope we will. At least, I know, I will.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

Where do we go from here?