New Jersey Looking At Bear Hunt

NJ News Day, Bear Hunting Magazine

The New Jersey Fish and Game Council is expected to introduce a policy calling for the states first bear hunt in five years due to a surge in the state's black bear population and a corresponding increase in complaints.

The hunt, slated to be held during six days in December, is one facet of a bear management plan that highlights how much the population has grown and how non-lethal control techniques championed by former Gov. Jon Corzine failed to stem bear-human interactions.

The move comes with the support of Gov. Chris Christie, who had vowed to end his predecessors ban on bear hunts. At the same time, the policy is sure to be met by the same kind of passionate opposition that surfaced during the last hunt in 2005, when protesters took to state parks and other hunting grounds.

Bob Martin, acting commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the policy cannot be fully adopted until a series of public hearings is held. If the management plan does win final approval, Martin said, he will make the ultimate decision on whether a hunt goes on.

He said several studies conducted by state biologists and outside authorities have confirmed the number of bears in New Jersey , and the problems they cause, are growing. "We do have what I think is a lot of excellent scientific data collected over several years ... validating the growth in our bear population," Martin said.

He declined to discuss population estimates in a recent study by East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. Estimates made by state biologists in the past have been limited to a 580-square-mile region in Sussex and Passaic counties, where counts showed a 62% jump in the number of bears between 2002 and 2007, to 2,141 from 1,317.

Complaints about bears have increased steadily since the state held its last hunt. DEP records show 1,301 complaints were fielded in 2006, 1,407 in 2007 and 2,844 in 2008. The total for 2009 was 3,003, said Larry Herrighty, deputy director of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The policy to be introduced today includes provisions for public education and trash control, as well as hunting. Many residents and legislators in bear country contend they learned to secure their trash a decade ago, when the bear population began to grow, and that the problem is too many bears.

"The ecosystem for bears is out of balance," said Anthony Mauro of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, a group of conservation and hunting organizations. "The swelling reports of human and bear encounter, including bears in schoolyards, backyard pools and downtown parades, is mounting evidence that either people need to raze their homes and provide more wilderness for the bears or the bears have to be culled to bring them in balance with the available wilderness."

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