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New Jersey to institute black bear hunt in December to control bear population

New Jersey is currently home to approximately 3,000 black bears, and that number is projected to grow by 1,000 over the next two years if the population is left unchecked. – Photo by Pete Nuij / Unsplash

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced last week that the New Jersey Fish and Game Council will deliberate the approval of the state’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy today, according to a press release.

In order to reduce New Jersey’s black bear population and thus reduce the frequency of dangerous interactions between bears and humans, the council will discuss amendments to the Game Code — such as reintroducing a regulated black bear hunt beginning in December.

"From the data we have analyzed to the stories we have heard from families across the state, it is clear that New Jersey’s black bear population is growing significantly, and nonlethal bear management strategies alone are not enough to mitigate this trend," Murphy said. "We must responsibly adapt to the population with carefully regulated and strict bear population management strategies to ensure our communities and families are protected from the growing black bear population."

Shawn M. LaTourette, the state’s commissioner of environmental protection, said that a sustainable population of black bears contributes to the state’s natural resources and larger environments, but public safety risks increase with bear overpopulation.

"Overpopulation and dispersal of bears to areas with less supportive natural habitat is a concern for public safety as well as the overall health and sustainability of the species," LaTourette said. "Given the black bear population and dispersion circumstances affecting New Jersey, a regulated hunt with humane limitations is necessary and appropriate."

The black bear population is centered in Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren Counties, and has increased to approximately 3,000 bears, according to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Reported incidents related to black bears have concurrently increased by approximately 237 percent from last year, according to the release.

Among these incidents is one human attack, 62 aggressive encounters with humans, 12 attacks on dogs, 12 entries into homes, 15 attempted home entries, 84 instances of damaged property with costs more than $1,000 and 52 attacks on livestock — all of which occurred between January and October of this year, according to the release.

Without appropriate population control methods, the state’s black bear population is estimated to increase by approximately 1,000 bears within the next two years because more female bears will reproduce.

Crowded bear populations can result in inadequate food supply and territory conflicts, which can increase the chances that bears disperse into areas where they may come into contact with people.

Bears may also seek food from pet food that is left outdoors, bird seed, crops, livestock, trash and poultry. Population reduction is currently the only scientifically sound method of restraining unchecked population growth, according to the release.

The proposed amendments would reinstate a bear hunting season from December 5 through December 10, which would run at the same time as the six-day firearm season for deer. If the 20 percent population reduction target is not reached, the season will be extended to the following week.

During these days, bear hunting will be allowed in designated bear hunting zones. Though regulated, the hunt may also require additional limitations, such as the prohibition of hunting cubs, according to the release.

The bear hunt was originally suspended in 2018 in order to properly examine the viability of only using nonlethal methods to keep the bear population at a level that matches public safety.

The DEP also plans to launch a Wildlife Management and Public Safety Initiative. This would include the protection of exotic species and increase government involvement regarding deer population control.

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