LETTER – Bear Hunt Starts: UnBearable

Today New Jersey begins the black bear hunting period. Archery hunting will be allowed through the 14th. For the last three days of the hunt, muzzleloaders will also be allowed. If the DEP decided to extend the hunt, it will reopen between December 4th and 9th. In 2016, the NJDEP extended the area and time period of the hunt and 636 bears were killed overall. When the hunt began in 2010, there were about 3,500 bears. We are very concerned that there may not be any more bears left after this hunt. Last year’s hunt played games with the tagging system and many of the bears killed were cubs and sows. The New Jersey Sierra Club believes the hunt is a poor excuse for an actual bear management plan because unless it deals with protection of habitats, garbage, and educating people in bear country, the hunt is meaningless. Additionally, it will put people and property in harm’s way. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, released the following statement:

“Today begins another unneeded and unsustainable bear hunt in New Jersey. This is merely a trophy hunt without any real management plan. The bear population has been so depleted that we’ll see small numbers this year simply because there aren’t many left to hunt. We may go back to the days where there’s only 50 bears left in the state.  The New Jersey Sierra Club has endorsed Phil Murphy for Governor and we agree with his plan to put a moratorium on the hunt. Until we can come up with a real management plan, this expanded hunt is too dangerous. We may not have any bears left in New Jersey if we keep killing them without real management.

“Instead of more hunting, we need a real management plan, one that includes strong education and uses warning signs in the region, education materials at trail heads, enforcing not feeding bears, and garbage management. Whether there is a hunt or not, there’s no real management plan in place. It is clear that continuing this pattern is only doubling down on a management plan that hasn’t worked and must be stopped. We must stop the hunt because there’s no real management plan and we’re threatening to eliminate all the bears from New Jersey.

“There’s even less of a justification for a hunt this year because there’s been a major drop in nuisance and aggressive bears. Since 2010, 3,017 bears have been killed, but when the hunt began there were about 3,500 bears. Last year’s two-part hunt killed 636 bears alone, over 400 of them just from archery hunting. Over the past six years, we’ve had bear hunt after bear hunt, but the amount of aggressive bear incidents has not dropped. In 2015, we killed 510 bears and we had an incident the day after the hunt ended. Last year they expanded the hunt into new areas and allowed bow-hunting as population. Hunting is doing nothing to reduce these incidents and instead the state needs to put in place a real management plan with education.

“We will never have a real bear management plan unless we deal with garbage, educate the public about how to live in bear country, and protect their habitat. There needs to be warning signs in bear country with post at all trail heads with Do’s and Don’ts in bear country. We also need to teach people how to bear-proof their property, including the importance of having no garbage at night and bear proof containers. These will do a lot more in managing the bear population than having an unnecessary hunt. Protecting our habitat is another important step towards managing our bear population. Each year, New Jersey loses thousands of acres of land in bear country. One of the reasons for pushing the hunt is because developers want to sell more condos. The more we build houses in the middle of the woods where bears live, the more conflict we will see between bears and humans.

“New Jersey used to spend more than $2 million a year on bear management education, that money has been reduced by 90%. Ten years ago, New Jersey had bear wardens whose jobs were to manage bears and educate the public. That program has been eliminated. Now only Conservation Officers do that work and there are 40% less of them then there was ten years ago. They not only have to deal with bears, but other species, poachers, and everything else. The Christie Administration thinks it is cheaper and easier to have a hunt rather than an effective management plan.

“The bear hunt is unbearable because it has no real science behind it. The black bear is a symbol that we still have wild places left in the state and that we haven’t completely given over to sprawl. Instead of having a real bear management plan with non-lethal options and education, Christie keeps expanding on his failed plan. Christie promised the hunting lobby that if they endorsed him, he would increase the bear hunt. That is why the hunt all part of the same political strategy to get rid of bears, forests, clean air, and clean water to protect his supporters. Unfortunately, the only sure way to stop a bear hunt is to change Administrations. The bear hunt is about politics, not about bears. By the time the hunt is over this year, we may not have any more bears left.”

Jamie Zaccaria

New Jersey Sierra Club