The New Jersey Bear Hunt: What Happened and What For?
Nearly 600 bears killed in first hunt since 2005.
A total of 589 bears were killed in New Jersey over the six-day hunt that began last Monday. That's around 17 percent of the New Jersey bear population.
Approved by Governor Chris Christie, the hunt was originally estimated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to kill 300 to 700 bears, and it's a wonder that more were not killed, as over 7,000 bear-hunting permits were issued.
The last bear hunt, which took place in 2005, drew about 5,000 hunters.
The hunt's geographical area was bordered by Highway 78 to the south and Highway 287 to the east. Essex County was not part of the hunt directly, but it's interesting that Verona and Cedar Grove don't receive more bear action.
Captain Mitchell Stern of the Verona Police is surprised that there has never been a reported bear encounter in the township, as its location, nestled in the Watchung Mountains, puts it well within the 50 mile radius of bears' breeding grounds.
"I've never been made aware of a bear sighting in the township in 25 years," Stern said.
If there ever is a bear encounter in Verona, however, the Verona Police are prepared to kill the bear if necessary.
"We've never dealt with it, but if there is [a] fear of [an] imminent safety issue, we're going to put the bear down," he said. "But if a bear ended up in Verona it'd be an imminent threat; how can you safely get it to go away? By the time we call State Fish and Game and they come out and grab it, there will probably be an encounter."
Opinions differ on the best ways for local law enforcement to deal with bears. And many have called the hunt itself inhumane. Former Governor Jon Corzine vehemently opposed bear hunts during his time in office.
In the weeks leading up to the hunt, two activist groups, the Animal Protection League of New Jersey and the New Jersey Bear Education and Resource Group, tried to stop the hunt by appealing to the New Jersey Supreme Court, saying that reports of bear incidents had been exaggerated by the Division of Fish and Wildlife, citing an independent survey conducted by a Rutgers University professor.
The groups also tried to make the case that culling a portion of the New Jersey bear population would not lessen the number of bear sightings and incidents. However, their case was not enough for the New Jersey Appellate Division Court to stop the hunt.
Residents of Warren, Hunterdon, Sussex, Passaic, Morris and Bergen counties are not facing anything in 2010 that they have not been facing all their lives when it comes to bears. Bear sightings are regular and expected. Whether or not reports of bear incidents were redundant or exaggerated, the people of northern New Jersey are well aware of the risks involved in living here, and have been taught how to minimize the likelihood of those incidents.
I work in Passaic County (where the above picture was taken), and every few months a bear is spotted nearby. It's not that bears are not dangerous, because they can be. But the people who work and live there are so used to them, there are rarely any encounters beyond brief sightings.
Unless the state of New Jersey wants to systematically destroy the entire bear population, the semi-annual hunt is a futile gesture. It only takes one bear to walk out of the woods and into someone's back yard for people to demand a bear cull.
I don't believe that we could ever live with ourselves if we got rid of all the bears in the state, but we can instead learn to live with the bears that are already here. By suitably bear-proofing our properties, keeping our pets close, and reacting quickly to bear-sightings, we can continue to coexist with black bears.
And even though Verona has led a charmed life with bears, residents can never be too careful. Take a page from the book of other north Jersey counties, and respect this mighty species.