New Jersey black bears can run, but they can’t hide from the onslaught of hunters who will soon seek them out as their prized prey.
The New Jersey Fish and Game Council voted unanimously in a meeting Tuesday to reinstate the state’s annual bear hunt, citing a significant increase in bear sightings in the state. But animal rights activists criticize the decision, saying it will not lead to a decrease in human-bear interaction.
New Jersey bear populations have increased in recent decades, said Patrick Carr, a retired wildlife biologist for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, in an interview with WNYCin 2011.
There are currently 3,000 black bears in Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties alone, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Conservationists in the state expect the bear population to grow to more than 4,000 over the next two years, Gov. Phil Murphy told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
The decision to overturn the bear hunting ban is not only “disappointing and cruel,” but also “bad public policy,” Elissa Frank, New Jersey state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told ABC News.
“It will lead to an unsustainable slaughter of our beloved New Jersey bears,” said Frank.
Trophy hunting, even with a goal of reducing the state’s black bear population by 20%, will do little to reduce conflict between humans and black bears, Frank said. In addition, killing adult bears causes orphaned cubs to starve to death and causes a spike in survivor breeding, PETA spokesperson Catie Cryar told ABC News via email.
“This planned slaughter is both brutal and phenomenally short-sighted.”
Hunters are allowed into the woods, but killing the bears in the wild won’t stop the animals from getting close to people foraging in garbage, outdoor grills that haven’t been cleaned and even houses, Frank said.
“Instead of starting a war against wildlife, the Garden State should clean up its garbage,” Cryar said. “If restaurants and residents were required to bear-proof trash cans and dumpsters, hungry bears just trying to make a living wouldn’t be drawn into residential areas in the first place.”
More criticism came during Tuesday’s council meeting, allowing for public comment ahead of the vote.
“I live in bear country and I haven’t seen a bear in two years,” New Jersey resident Debra Herrington told the council. “And I’m often gone.”
Former New Jersey state senator Ray Lesniak said the decision to resume bear hunting should be reconsidered for more effective action, WABC reported.
Frank proposed a “bear awareness” program similar to what has been set up in Colorado, with the state wildlife agency awarding grants to help communities deal with human and bear conflict.
The move came more than four years after New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy reversed a bear hunting ban he enforced months after taking office in 2018, after making a campaign promise that bear hunting would not exist as long as he was in office. function was.
“While I have committed to ending bear hunting, the data requires that we act now to prevent tragic interactions between bears and humans,” Murphy said at a news conference Tuesday.
Animal rights activists expressed their disappointment that Murphy went back on his promise.
“This is extremely disappointing,” Anjuli Ramos-Busot, executive director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey, said in a statement.
The hunt has been approved as part of an emergency rule that states there is immediate danger to people.
“There really isn’t an emergency,” Frank said, accusing the state of using “very inflated numbers” to suggest there is an emergency.
Angi Metler, co-founder of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, echoed that sentiment at Tuesday’s council meeting, adding that the Imminent Emergency Rule is a “new political tactic” used by the conservation organization “to quell public opposition, comments and input.”
Black bear attacks on humans are rare, but often begin as scuffles with dogs, experts told ABC News in 2019. Black bears, which are usually shy and non-aggressive, would likely flee before launching an attack – usually into the nearest tree.
Incidents reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection from January to October this year are up 237% compared to the same period in 2021, Murphy’s office said in a Nov. recovery as a possible way to curb those interactions. There were 62 aggressive encounters with humans, one attack on a human, 12 attacks on dogs, 12 home entries, 15 home entry attempts, 84 cases of property damage over $1,000 and 52 attacks on protected livestock, the release said.
Frank refuted those claims, stating that between January and October 2022, bear attacks on humans increased by one, bear attacks on dogs increased by five, and vehicular injuries with bear attacks increased by four, compared with the same time period in 2021, citing state wildlife data.
When asked by ABC News for a response to the Humane Society’s allegations, a Murphy representative pointed to the Nov. 10 press release.
This year’s bear hunt coincides with the annual six-day hunting season from December 5 to 10. Additional hunts are allowed from December 14 to December 17 if the goal of reducing the bear population by 20% is not met during the first hunt.
A hunting enthusiast wasted no time killing black bears after announcing it could soon be legal again.
On Monday, the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Conservation received reports of three dead bears along the edge of Ringwood State Park, spotted by a hiker. When conservationists arrived on the scene, they found a fourth dead bear — all the cubs shot and killed, ABC New York station WABC reported.
The 22-year-old suspect in the shooting has been charged with hunting with an unlicensed firearm, hunting with an illegal weapon and ammunition, and hunting a bear during a closed season.