OPINION: The Bear Hunt Remains A Critical Tool… No Matter What Extremists Say!

By Cody McLaughlin
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It’s that time of year, Save Jerseyans: bears have emerged from their dens and, likewise, animal rights extremists have emerged from theirs, too, to admonish the hard-working biologists who help advance the cause of conservation.

So What Happened?

A few weeks ago, during committee questioning about the Murphy Administration’s plans for a bear hunt, Acting DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe (to her credit and the chagrin of extreme animal rights elements in the state) came out in support of her scientists at the nationally recognized New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, their comprehensive 5-year bear management plan, and the only currently proven method of responsibly man aging New Jersey’s extremely dense black bear population: the bear hunt.

In response, environmental extremists ranging from Jeffrey Tittel at the New Jersey Sierra Club to the Animal Protection League of New Jersey are now admonishing Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe’s support of sound science and common-sense wildlife management techniques.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s 1.2 million sportsmen and women continue to partner proudly with the DEP and the Division of Fish and Wildlife in pursuit of management goals; they’re protecting endangered shore birds from overpopulated predators, getting more kids out fishing and enjoying our outdoors, and advocating for and helping to fund Operation Game Thief to protect New Jersey’s wildlife from poachers and those who would willfully break the law and endanger New Jersey’s ecological balance.

So What Are The Facts?

We’re glad you asked. New Jersey is well served by the existing 5-year management plan that relies on the hard work of scientists in the Division of Fish and Wildlife, but our state would be ill-served by caving to a special interest group agenda based on fear and misinformation.

Biologists have estimated there are between 2,500 and 3,500 black bears JUST in the northwestern corner of New Jersey – and that is to say nothing of the fact that they have been reported in all 21 New Jersey counties. If you count the animals harvested in 2003 and 2005 it comes to 4,052 over 10 hunts. With a current population of 3,500 bears, New Jerseyans should ask themselves “What would it have been without the harvest?” – with current estimates hovering at a fertility rate of about two cubs in most areas; in New Jersey, the rate is four cubs.

One can only guess… but it’d be high. Mature females give birth to a litter every two years.

In addition to New Jersey’s bear population being the densest in the country, we hold the title for another mammal being the most densely populated… people. With population density issues and the further strain from the majority of our bear population living in the northwest corner of the state (again, up to 3,500 bears just in that corner of the state), we have a looming opportunity for real problems.

Bear, just from sheer size and food motivation, have an amazing capacity to do damage to property and crop loss. Other potential problems can be much more sinister: with the rise in popularity of things like hunting and camping among young people as recreational activity, it is only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt through an encounter with our ursine neighbors.

The choice is clear: New Jersey should follow the science and manage our wildlife resources responsibly, ethically and yes, even humanely. We owe a great deal of thanks to Acting Commissioner McCabe for having the courage to stand her ground and back the scientists at the Division on this issue.

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