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HUGE news out of New Jersey – a regulated bear hunting season could return next month!

The state’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy (CBBMP) will be up for discussion and potential approval at the next Fish and Game Council meeting on Tuesday, November 15. 

Black bear hunting has been closed on state lands since 2018 and, despite a lawsuit from SCI, Sportsmen’s Alliance, and the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, the Commissioner has been sitting on the revised CBBMP since 2021, which has effectively closed hunting statewide. In 2018, the DEP Commissioner closed the bear hunt on state lands to fulfill Governor Murphy’s campaign promise.  SCI and its partners sued the Department to reopen the hunt.  The case was tried before an Administrative Law Judge, and the judge’s final opinion was subject to review and approval by the DEP Commissioner—the very person whose actions were being challenged.  SCI and its partners submitted expert evidence that the closure of state lands allowed the bear population to dramatically increase by creating bear “sanctuaries,” and the subsequent increase in human-bear conflicts in 2020 reflected this growth and dispersal of the bear population, which was becoming overpopulated on these state lands.  SCI and its partners argued that the closure violated the state bear management policy because unmitigated bear population growth and increased human-bear conflicts put the public at risk.  The Administrative Law Judge agreed that the bear population and conflicts were increasing.  But she held that these increases were not yet so high as to create a public safety risk.  Her opinion was issued in October 2020.  Of course, the bear population and human-bear conflicts have continued to increase at record pace since then.  The bottom line is that the Governor and Commission were warned of this outcome … but chose politics over public safety.

Last week, the Governor of New Jersey admitted that the state’s black bear population has skyrocketed and greatly expanded its habitat since the hunting was shut down.  Assuming the CBBMP is adopted at the Council meeting, DEP Commissioner LaTourette has committed to signing it and implementing the hunt next month.

This welcomed news affirms SCI’s longstanding position that, while non-lethal methods are important for reducing conflicts, the only way to control New Jersey’s growing black bear population and ensure public safety is through a regulated hunting season. To that end, SCI recently sent a letter of support for NJ Senate Bill 3052 that would have required the state to conduct an annual black bear population estimate, which SCI believes is already well above 4000 bears and growing, and further exhibited the need for a regulated hunting season. This news along with latest bear activity report further solidifies that wildlife policy can’t be based on emotions or campaign promises. 

Important details on the proposed regulated hunt below:

  • A reinstated Bear Hunting Season on BOTH state and private lands within designated bear hunting zones would run concurrent with the six-day whitetail deer firearm season for December 5 – December 10.
  • If the 20% population harvest target is not met, the season will be extended to include December 14 – December 17.
  • The proposed season would also include restrictions on the taking of cubs under 75 pounds, the taking of adults traveling in family packs with cubs under 75 pounds, and place restrictions on the hunting of bears over bait.

Public comment will be accepted on the CBBMP, along with amendments to the Game Code, during the upcoming Fish and Game Council meeting which beings at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, November 15 at the New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street.  

Governor Murphy—we told you so.

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