Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012 New Jersey Bear Hunt Begins December 3

Tomorrow, December 3, is the start of New Jersey’s always controversial six-day black bear hunt for 2012 that is part of the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife’s “Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy.” This will be the third annual hunt which is part of a five-year plan.

Once again, along with the hunters will be protesters. Protests against the bear hunt are scheduled for 10 am on Monday, Dec. 3 and Saturday, Dec 8, at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area, in Fredon, NJ. (see

While the state sees the hunt as “managing” the bear population, protesters see it as simply "killing." The protests will not stop this year's hunt, but those against the hunt are hoping to affect future hunts.

Most New Jerseyeans do not hunt, so there are large numbers of people who oppose the hunt. But NJ's black bears are not "endangered" as a population. The estimate of bears living in the northwestern part of the state is now 2,800 to 3,000. That is down from the 3,400 estimated in 2010. That was the year that NJ adopted its comprehensive bear management policy to decrease the number of animals.

Though black bears historically existed in the state, they were considered to be nonexistent within the state by the 1970s. It is likely that they "reintroduced" themselves to NJ by crossing parts of the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into the rural northwestern part of the state.

Pennsylvania's statewide bear hunting season ended yesterday, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. By day three of the four-day hunt, 2442 bears were harvested throughout the state.

This hunt is different from the typical hunting season such as those for deer in NJ. (The New Jersey black bear hunting season is held concurrently with the Six-day Firearm Deer Season.) The bear population has been scouted, targeted and even baited prior to the hunt. Baiting, which is done with vegetables, carcasses, honey and other sweets, lures bears. In NJ, an elevated hunting stand must be at least 300 feet from the bait, but The Humane Society of the US reported in 2009 that bear baiting is banned in 18 of the 28 states that allow bear hunting.

Last year's hunted had a reported harvest of 469 bears.

On the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife(DFW) side of this controversy is their own evidence that non-lethal means of bear management (birth control and the 2002 bear feeding law, for example) have been ineffective ways to manage the population.

But for non-hunters, it is difficult to look away from the hunt, especially when it allows the killing of any sex or size black bear, including cubs.

The six-day bear hunt focuses on the northwestern part of the state and, because the number of bears is down, it is expected that the number of hunters and kills will also be down this year.

The Star-Ledger reports that this year there are no last-minute legal actions to block the hunt and that animal-rights protesters were still fighting in court last week to have the right to demonstrate near the various bear weigh-in check stations.

The bear population is down after the past two consecutive hunts and the number of complaints about problem bears is also down. Does this mean the hunt has been a "success?"

The New Jersey plan has been that the decline in the bear population will make encounters between humans and bears rare, and that at the end of the five-year period, the DFW will decide its next management steps, which includes the fate of the bear hunt.

The controversy continues...

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