The NJ Sierra Club recently submitted comments on the proposed 2020-21 Game Code N.J.A.C 7:25-5. It provides when, under what circumstances, in what location, by what means, and what amounts and numbers, game-birds, game animals and fur-bearing animals may be pursued, taken, killed or had in possession.
“We don’t believe the rule change is going to stop the bear hunt in New Jersey. The reason is separating the CMP from the Game Code. The Game Council is not going to adopt the rule to stop the hunt. This is also a major shift in power that will remove DEP from oversight from the Game Code. It creates legal confusion and hunting groups will be able to challenge this rule. By adopting this rule, DEP is basically weakening their oversight and authority. The DEP separating the bear policy out of the Game Code transfers authority from the DEP to the Fish and Game. It also takes away one of the strongest tools for the Commissioner to stop the bear hunt. Governor Whitman threatened to veto the game code and not have a hunt, which is why the bear hunt ended in 1999,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We are concerned that this rule proposal is just spin by the Murphy Administration and cover for not stopping the black bear hunt.”
Existing N.J.A.C. 7:25-5.6(a) states that there is a season for black bears in accordance with the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy (CBBMP), included as an appendix to that section of the Game Code. The Council proposes to amend N.J.A.C. 7:25- 5.6(a) to clarify that, pursuant to United States Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation v New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, 182 N.J. 461 (2005), the Council may only authorize a black bear hunting season consistent with a current comprehensive policy for the protection and propagation of the black bear population developed by the Council and approved by the Commissioner.
“In the new code, DEP gives the Game Code authority under the Fish and Wildlife, not the DEP Commissioner. The change in rule of the Game Code is a major shift in DEP regulatory authority. Up until now, the Fish and Game Code final authority falls to the DEP Commissioner. That has already been upheld in the Supreme Court under the Safari International Case. The proposed rule gives the Fish & Game Council entire authority and control of the Game Code. This means all activities for hunting do not need the Commissioner’s approval. It’s not only bad for bears, but for all other hunted species. In separating the Bear Management Plan from the Game Code, it gives hunters a chance to sue and overturn the BMP,” said Tittel.
The Council believes that removal of the CBBMP as an appendix in the Game Code is appropriate because adopting a final CBBMP requires both Council and Commissioner approval, while the Game Code is within the Council’s sole authority.
“Governor Murphy’s attempt to cancel the hunt will only be for the next year when he adopts the management plan. Then it will most likely be overturned by the Fish and Game when they get authority and have a hunt for the next 6 years. The new amendments to the CBBMP won’t work and will end up doing more damage and killing more bears. Instead, the state needs to implement an effective non-lethal bear management plan that focuses on education. More than half a million NJ residents live in bear country, but many do not have the education to understand bears and avoid confrontations with them. The biggest problem we have with nuisance bears is when they see people and homes as a source of food. Without a concerted effort to codify and enforce requirements on garbage, other bear policies will fail,” said Tittel.
In August, a coalition of twelve organizations including the NJ Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States and The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a petition with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection under the Administrative Procedures Act to repeal rules permitting bear hunting and the Department’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy. The coalition also sent a letter to Governor Murphy asking him to issue an Executive Order to stop the bear hunt. By stopping the hunt, it would allow the state to come up with a better management plan that actually manages bears, not just hunting them.
“If Governor Murphy really wanted to end the bear hunt, he could have signed an EO cancelling the hunt or because of the COVID health pandemic and the fact that hundreds of hunters are coming out of state to New Jersey. The Murphy Administration and DEP would not accept our petition to stop the bear hunt even though that is what the law says,” said Tittel. “The States Sportsmen Alliance vs DEP case settled in October clearly shows Murphy could have just canceled the hunt in New Jersey. If they can ban the hunt on state lands, the hunt should be banned altogether. Governor Whitman, McGreevy, and Corzine have already stopped the bear hunt.”
New Jersey needs to teach people how to bear-proof their properties, including the importance of having no garbage out at night and using bear-proof containers and locked dumpsters. In order to properly manage black bears we need to regulate food sources for the black bears such as garbage
Without a concerted effort to codify and enforce requirements on garbage, other bear policies will fail. The state needs to mandate bear-proof containers and locking dumpsters in bear country and ban the practice of leaving garbage out overnight. Protecting our habitat is another important step towards managing our bear population. The state also needs to transition from hunting to a real non- lethal 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. There needs to be warning signs in bear country with posts at all trail heads with Do’s and Don’ts in bear country,” said Tittel.
The second segment which includes firearms only is scheduled to begin on December 7th. Essex County recently canceled their deer hunt because of COVID. Other states have also canceled bear hunts because of the health pandemic.
“Not only will this hunt bring a lot of people to bear county all over the state, but 100s of people will be coming from out of state. There will be 1,000s of hunters in the woods outside. People will be coming into the state, using services, intermixing, and will increase the chances of the virus to spread. We are entering a worse second wave and Governor Murphy should follow Essex County’s lead and cancel the bear hunt,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “There is no reason for the hunt. It is unnecessary and Governor Murphy has the authority to cancel it. Other states have already stopped hunts because of the coronavirus, Murphy should too.”