Senator Steve Oroho, Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose and Assemblyman Gary Chiusano (R-24, Sussex, Morris, Hunterdon) sent a letter today to Commissioner Lisa Jackson of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection requesting that the Department publicly release its figures on the present bear population in New Jersey.
"We are extremely concerned about the growing number of black bear sightings and incidents in rural and suburban New Jersey," Oroho stated. "Human encounters with bears have become more commonplace, especially in the northwestern part of the state, and we want more-effective bear management practices enacted and enforced."
"We are disturbed by reports that the Department of Environmental Protection is keeping information on the estimated number of bears and their impact on this State concealed from the media and the public," McHose said. "It is frightening to think that the DEP may be withholding information that may affect citizens' public safety."
The latest monthly report on bear activity compiled by the State Fish and Game Council indicates that incidents involving bears have increased by 44 percent over the same period in 2007. Complaints include bears approaching children at a picnic, breaking into enclosed garages and greenhouses, and disturbing a sleeping sunbather. Yet the fiscal 2009 budget reduced the appropriation for bear management from $850,000 last year to $678,000.
"Bears represent a significant public safety threat to children, tourists and family pets," Chiusano said. "The so-called ‘comprehensive approach’ to bear management doesn’t seem to be working. We need to consider a new plan."
If the Commissioner doesn't release the information requested in a timely fashion, all three legislators are prepared to petition for the release of the information through New Jersey's Open Public Records Act.