New Jersey Plan to Lift Bear-Hunt Ban Spurs Protests

June 16, 2003

When the bear spied humans approaching, it bolted—and was jerked back by the wire snare around its paw that tethered it to a tree. Pat Carr, a wildlife biologist with New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife, shot the bruin in the thigh with a tranquilizer dart. Within minutes, it was asleep.

Carr pulled the dart from the female—Black Bear Number 744, according to her ear tags. He measured her paws, head, and length, checked her overall health, took blood samples, extracted a small tooth to determine her age, and punched a tissue sample from her ear for DNA identification.

"She's a big one," he said, recording data as part of an updated population study. She weighed in at a hefty 232 pounds (87 kilograms). When he was finished, he injected a drug to counteract the sedative. The bear soon awoke and staggered off into the forest.

No. 744 was caught in Worthington State Forest on the Delaware River in northwestern New Jersey, in the heart of bear country. In mid-December, she and other New Jersey bears may face the first officially sanctioned hunt since 1970.

The state would issue up to 10,000 permits for the Dec. 8 to 13 hunt—organized to cull as much as 20 percent of the state's bear population.

The hunt has touched off a fierce controversy. Protesters have rallied at the statehouse in Trenton, clutching teddy bears and more than 82,000 people have signed an antihunt petition.

Exactly how many bears live in the state is hotly disputed, as well as the danger they pose—and the need for a hunt to control the population. The appointed New Jersey Fish & Wildlife Game Council, composed of hunters, approved the hunt in March, but will accept public comments until early July.

Bear Recovery

New Jersey black bears were nearly hunted to extinction. But protection under a 33-year hunting ban has allowed them to recover. Since then, like in many other suburban and rural areas around the United States and the world, development has intruded on wildlife areas. Now, bear country sprawls with new housing complexes, shopping centers and vacation homes.

This means more bear sightings, more run-ins with humans and increasing property damage. "We have a bunch of people living where we haven't had bears in decades," said Carr.

During his 2002 campaign, Governor Jim McGreevey promised a five-year moratorium on bear hunting. Now he has reneged—and delegated the matter to Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

"We consider the hunt a legitimate and appropriate management approach," Campbell says. "There's a public safety concern."

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