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This week, New Jersey is in the midst of its fourth consecutive black bear hunt. While the hunt is considered controversial by some, the Department of Fish and Wildlife uses a comprehensive research and monitoring program to demonstrate that New Jersey’s black bear population can support regulated hunting.
New Jersey’s recent history with black bear hunting is complicated. Bear hunts took place in 2003 and 2005, but were halted by legal process from suits filed to cancel the hunt in 2004 and between 2006 and 2009. Bear nuisance complaints increased during this time period and the black bear hunt was reinstated in 2010 to manage the bear population.
Nuisance bears are a primary reason why the hunt remains in effect. A 2009 study revealed that three out of five “problem” bears returned to an urban area within 17 days of being relocated to new areas. Though education on precautionary measures is provided to New Jersey residents, garbage is causing a majority of the problems. The average black bear can detect scents of a food source from more than two miles away, which often leads them to neighborhoods and campsites, especially in Northwestern New Jersey.
New Jersey is the most densely populated state in regards to the number of black bears, and multiple plans have been established to ensure that both it’s citizens and wildlife can coexist safely. The New Jersey Fish and Game Council’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy states: “Council has established this black bear policy, and management goals should consider the cultural carrying capacity, which is the number of bears that can co-exist compatibly with the local human population in a given area.”
Determining that cultural carrying capacity is a challenge because black bears are highly adaptable species that can live among human developments. They can acclimate to changing environments and will seek out human food if resources for a natural diet are scarce. According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, black bear populations have continually increased since the 1980’s and expanded their range southward and eastward. Sightings of black bears have now been reported in all 21 counties of the state with an estimate of three bears per square mile.
Overpopulation of bears is not uncommon, especially since humans have different levels of tolerance for bears. Black bear populations are extremely healthy and widely distributed in North America. In areas where bear habitats are fragmented, bears often congregate. These high-density areas make the need for strong, science-based management plans a top priority.
“This science- and fact-based policy recognizes that hunting is an important bear management tool in combination with non-lethal controls of problem bears, public education on coexisting with bears and enforcement of laws to reduce conflicts between bears and people,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said.
Commissioner Martin went on to state that: “Although I respect that some New Jersey residents are opposed to hunting bears, hunting is the only proven and most cost-effective method of wildlife population control and it is utilized successfully by other states with viable bear populations.’’
While several animal rights groups oppose the idea of a hunt for conservation purposes, the facts still stand. Bear populations continue to rise, and property damage, car accidents, lost pets and other economic casualties caused by bears are the result. Annual hunting of bears can keep numbers controlled and condition bears to remain in their natural habitat. North American black bears are native to our continent and once occupied all of our forested regions. Sustainable management of free ranging bears is a top priority and is possible as long as science and comprehensive management plans continue to be the driving force behind the hunt.
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