NEW JERSEY – With the six-day October bear hunt starting Monday, Assemblyman Parker Space is asking the Legislature to advance his bill (A169) to establish the Fish and Game Council as the sole entity responsible for regulating hunting, fishing and trapping and prohibit the closing of state-owned lands for such purposes without consent from the council.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order last year banning bear hunting on all state-owned lands – an attempt at fulfilling a campaign promise that he would end the hunt altogether, Space said.
“Before Gov. Murphy took office, we had a sound bear management plan in place and there is absolutely no reason to stop hunting on state-owned lands,” said Space (R-Sussex). “The bear hunt has proven to be very effective at keeping the population in check and limiting human encounters. Murphy’s motives are purely political and go against expert recommendations and decades of research.”
Black bears in New Jersey have been responsible for property damage, car accidents, livestock kills, pet attacks, human attacks, and one human fatality (in 2014), Space said.
A 2016 study by researchers at Utah State University, found human-bear conflicts in New Jersey declined by about 20 percent the year after a hunt. In the years following an absence of a hunt, it rose by approximately the same amount. In 2009, a year without a hunt, there were 2,714 black bear damage and nuisance reports. Last year, there were 703, Space said.
“New Jersey has one of the healthiest bear populations in the nation and we have controls in place to ensure we don’t exceed the harvest goal,” said Space.
According to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, black bears have been sighted in all of the state’s 21 counties. The Utah State University study stated New Jersey’s bear numbers are “on par with the rich salmon streams in Southeast Alaska.” While there is no exact count of black bears in New Jersey, most estimates range between 3,500 and 4,000, Space said.
The total harvest goal for the October and December bear hunts is between 20 and 30 percent of tagged bears that year. The December hunt can be extended by four days if the numbers are less than 20 percent or it could be canceled altogether if hunters reach the 30 percent goal in October, Space said.
“Politicians against the bear hunt like to play into people’s emotions, but a 400 pound bear can do some serious damage,” said Space. “We have seen nearly a 70 percent decrease in the number of black bear disturbances over the last decade in which we’ve had a hunt.”
New Jersey has a comprehensive, multi-year bear management plan to address the bear population, human-bear conflicts and bear emigration. The plan states that without regulated sport hunting, New Jersey’s black bear population will double in five years, Space said.
Space also has a proposal for a constitutional amendment to preserve the right of people to fish, hunt, trap and harvest fish and wildlife in New Jersey. It is waiting to be heard in both Assembly and Senate committees.