New Jersey’s annual archery bear season began on Columbus Day, October 14, with state-owned land remaining off limits to bear hunters. The political move to eliminate hunting on state land was imposed last year as a campaign promise fulfilled by Governor Phil Murphy.
Animal rights activists from the Bear Education And Resource Group (BEAR) have called for a complete ban on bear hunting. As part of their campaign to stop bear hunting, the group has called for protests to be held at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area on opening day since the reestablishment of the bear season in 2010. This year, the group replaced their day-time protests at Whittingham with a daily candlelight vigil at the site.
In addition, the BEAR activists planned the major protest to take place on October 19 in Middletown, the hometown of Governor Murphy. The group claims that the protests at Whittingham have drawn fewer people over the years, and [they claim] since the Governor is the only person who can stop the hunts, they are taking the protest to his turf, according to a report in the New Jersey Herald.
The closure of state lands to the black bear hunt is being challenged on more than one front. SCI has joined with other sportsmen’s groups in a lawsuit pending before the state Office of Administrative Law. The suit asserts that the decision to close state public lands was arbitrary, unsupported by any scientific evidence, and contrary to the requirements of the state’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy.
The suit asserts that, before the state public land closure, about 40 percent of the bears harvested were taken on state lands. According to the New Jersey Herald report, a spokesman for the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, stated that the number of bears harvested will obviously decrease, leaving more bears in the woods to reproduce and in turn increasing the bear population to a point where human-bear conflicts will occur even more often.
Legislation (Assembly Bill 169) has also been introduced in the state legislature which makes clear that any closure of state lands to hunting would require the consent of the Fish and Game Council.
In introducing AB-169, Assemblyman Parker Space cited a 2016 study by researchers at Utah State University analyzing data on black bear mortality and human-bear conflict rates in New Jersey from 2001 through 2014. The study found human-bear conflicts in New Jersey declined by about 20 percent in the year after a hunt and, if not hunt took place, rose by approximately the same amount in the following year.