N.J. Cancels Black Bear Hunt
UPPER FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) _ Wildlife officials on Tuesday voted to scrap what would have been the first scheduled black bear hunt in the nation’s most densely populated state in 29 years.
The New Jersey Fish and Game Council voted 6-4 to halt a hunt that was to begin next Monday. The board heard criticism from local governments and environmental groups, and one lawsuit to halt the hunt was filed by animal groups, individuals and towns.
Gov. Christie Whitman last week offered an alternative plan that includes relocating nuisance bears, shooting dangerous ones and allocating more money and training for police departments and the state environmental agency.
``I extend my thanks to the council for reconsidering its position,″ Whitman said after the vote.
New Jersey has more than 1,000 people per square mile and residents are seeing bears more and more frequently. State officials last year logged 29 cases in which bears have entered homes, 25 attacks on livestock and 40 pet attacks.
Bob Eriksen, the council’s supervising wildlife biologist, said the state’s black bear population has grown from about 100 in the mid-1970s to nearly 1,200 today.
He said without the hunt, which would have allowed 175 bears to be killed, the size of the population would double in five years.
``I remember in 1975 we handled one bear call, and everyone in the office was excited at that,″ he said. ``In 1999, we had 1,659 bear complaints.″
Animal activists say the bear population estimates are inflated.
Janine Motta, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance, said randomly killing bears would not help even if the numbers are right. The better approach is to discourage nuisance bear behavior and educate the public, she said.
Otherwise, ``The bear doesn’t learn its lesson, Mrs. Smith doesn’t learn her lesson and we have dead bears. That’s a lose, lose, lose situation,″ she said.
Council Chairman John Bradway said the panel could vote later to authorize a hunt for next fall. But there’s a possibility the council may continue a three-decade policy of not allowing bear hunting.
``They may opt to sit back for a while. We’re looking to see how this expanded program may work with problem bears,″ he said. ``There’s a possibility if we see results, that might make us decide not to pursue a hunt.″
On the Net:
Information on black bears: http://www.bear.org/species/blackbear/index.htm
Fish and Game Council: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw