New Jersey black bear hunting could return amid growing population and increased human interaction

A plan to reintroduce black bear hunting in designated areas of New Jersey will be discussed Tuesday at a public meeting held by the state’s Fish & Wildlife Council. No bear hunts have taken place in New Jersey since 2020.

The potential return of scheduled hunting seasons comes in response to a rapidly growing black bear population, particularly in Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties. A growing number of human interactions have raised concerns that non-lethal methods to contain the population have fallen short.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a longtime opponent of black bear hunting, announced Thursday that his administration is considering the move.

“From the data we’ve analyzed and the stories we’ve heard from families across the state, it’s clear that New Jersey’s black bear population is increasing significantly, and non-lethal management strategies bears alone are not enough to mitigate this trend,” Murphy said. said.

If approved, the initial bear hunting period would run from Dec. 5 to 10, coinciding with the six-day gun season for deer. If the black bear population is not reduced by 20%, a second period could be added the following week, from December 14 to 17.

“Every New Jerseyer deserves to live in communities where their children, family and property are protected, and while I am committed to ending the bear hunt, the data demands that we act now. to prevent tragic interactions between bears and humans,” Murphy added. . “We must responsibly adapt to the population with carefully regulated and stringent bear population management strategies to ensure our communities and families are protected from the growing black bear population.”

The state Department of Environmental Protection estimates that New Jersey’s black bear population has grown to about 3,000 and will grow to more than 4,000 in the next two years.

Bear incidents reported to the DEP from January to October increased by 237% compared to the same period in 2021.

During this 10-month period, there were 62 aggressive black bear encounters with humans, including an attack on a Sussex County woman collecting her mail. The woman survived, but two of her dogs were killed by a group of bears.

There were 12 dog attacks, 52 attacks on protected livestock, 12 home entries, 15 home entry attempts and 84 cases of property damage exceeding $1,000, DEP officials said.

Murphy signed an executive order suspending New Jersey black bear hunting on state land in 2018, hoping to assess the feasibility of other strategies to contain the population and sequester animals from areas. used by people. But no bear hunts have taken place in New Jersey since 2020 due to the expiration of the state’s comprehensive black bear management plan, which encompassed popular hunting areas outside the 700 000 acres of state game land.

The state previously reinstated bear hunting in 2003, on a periodic basis, after a period of nearly three decades in which bear hunting was banned. An annual bear hunt resumed in 2010. In 2015, former Governor Chris Christie added a second hunting period in October, in addition to the one in December, allowing bow hunting with firearms .

For years, environmental and animal rights groups have engaged in legal challenges to stop the New Jersey bear hunt. They had viewed Murphy as an ally in this effort. The New Jersey Sierra Club said bringing back a hunt would be an excuse for not developing a more comprehensive alternative, including better waste management in areas with growing populations. The organization also questioned the interpretation of data on black bear sightings in recent years, attributing some of the rise to trends related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Governor Murphy is not delivering on his commitment to stop the bear hunt,” said Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey manager of the Sierra Club. “In order to reduce instances of nuisance with bears, we need a real management plan that will take care of educating the public on how to live with bears and protecting their property from bears. See bears in the woods does not justify their hunting.”

Anti-bear hunting activism reached an inflection point in October 2016, when Christie’s expansion of bear hunting led to the murder of Pedals, an unusual black bear that walked upright on its legs. hind limbs due to injury. Pedals was occasionally seen and filmed by New Jersey residents in more remote areas, such as Oak Ridge and West Milford, and became an internet sensation. Animal welfare advocates had hoped Pedals would be placed in a sanctuary, while other wildlife experts believed he had proven his ability to survive and was best left to roam. He was eventually shot down by a hunter.

At the Fish & Wildlife Council meeting, officials will discuss approving the state’s comprehensive bear management policy and consider game code amendments that would bring back bear hunts. There will be an opportunity for the public to comment during the meeting, which will be held at 10 a.m. at the New Jersey State Museum, 205 W. State St. in Trenton.

Former New Jersey Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat and longtime opponent of bear hunting, has threatened to sue the Murphy administration if it goes ahead with plans to bring bear hunting back .

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife says dense bear populations can lead to inadequate natural food sources for animals and territory for young bucks. Wider dispersal of bears increases the likelihood that they will enter areas where they can come into conflict with people. It also means bears will seek out food sources such as trash, pet food, birdseed, agricultural crops, poultry, and livestock.

“I share Governor Murphy’s concerns for protecting public safety while supporting a healthy black bear population in New Jersey,” said New Jersey Fish and Game Council President Frank Virgilio. “Furthermore, we have an obligation to conduct bear hunting in New Jersey in an ethical and responsible manner. The council’s job is to consider credible black bear management as well as the non-hunting public and their acceptance of our regulations.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Fish & Wildlife Council will discuss humanitarian limits. In particular, they prohibit the hunting of cubs under 75 pounds, as well as bears traveling in packs with cubs below this weight threshold. Amendments to the game code would also include restrictions on baiting.

Without effective population control measures, wildlife officials fear that more female bears will continue to breed and disperse in New Jersey.

The state DEP said a regulated bear hunt is the only feasible way to control the bear population.

“Black bears are part of New Jersey’s natural heritage, and a sustainable population contributes to the health of our broader ecosystem,” said DEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette. “The overpopulation and dispersal of bears into areas with less favorable natural habitat is a concern for public safety as well as the overall health and sustainability of the species. Given the black bear population and circumstances dispersal affecting New Jersey, a regulated hunt with humane limits is necessary and appropriate.”