JEFF TITTEL, NJ SIERRA CLUB
The Fall section of the New Jersey black bear hunt has ended with 243 bears killed. The hunt allowed archery for three days, followed by three days of additional muzzleloaders from October 9th through 14th. If the DEP decides 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.
The record low numbers of this year’s hunt show that the DEP must cancel the December portion of the hunt. This shows that there are fewer bears in the woods and the hunt was completely unneeded and unnecessary for controlling the population. There were also fewer interactions between humans and bears or nuisance encounters. We have likely overharvested black bears in the state and additional hunting may be disastrous to their population. This hunt is not sustainable and the methodology used is flawed. We challenged their methodology when they started the hunt, and this year shows how wrong their tagging methods are. The bare facts are that the hunt is not needed and the DEP must not allow it to continue in December.
Given the mild weather, these numbers should be much higher. We have overhunted the population over the last six years with 3,168 being killed through October 12, 2017. Last year we asked for the hunt to be stopped when they reached high numbers but they did not. If we really want to protect the bear population as well as the communities of New Jersey, we need to implement a real management program. We need education, bear-proof containers, bear aversion therapy, and other non-lethal methods of controlling bear-human interactions.
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.
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. The bear population has been so depleted that there aren’t many left to hunt. We may go back to the days where there’s only 50 bears left in the state. This is merely a trophy hunt without any real management. 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.”