NJ Governor Jumps Gun on Announcing Bear Hunting Ban

On Monday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tweeted that “The 2020 bear hunt will be the LAST” for New Jersey.  But the Governor is jumping the gun…

The New Jersey Fish and Game Council is responsible for adopting revisions to the state Game Code every five to seven years.  The Council is proposing to update the Game Code effective for 2021.  As part of that process, the Council published a proposed rule and is seeking public comments, due December 4.  The Game Code revisions include changes to deer regulations to keep CWD out of New Jersey, closure of the ruffed grouse season due to a population decline, removal of the king rail from the list of huntable species, and a few other changes.  The Council is also proposing to separate the state’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy from the Game Code.

The bear policy, unlike the rest of the Game Code, requires approval from the Department of Environmental Protection.  The rest of the Game Code can be adopted under the Council’s authority.  So the Council is moving forward to adopt the rest of its hunting regulations, while gearing up for a potential battle with the Department—led by an appointee of the Governor—over black bear management.

Murphy claims that the new bear policy will focus on “non-lethal management techniques.”  But the Department’s Commissioner, Catherine McCabe, has said the policy will be “guided by science,” which is also the standard employed by the Fish and Game Council.  And the science on New Jersey’s black bears is clear—the bear population is capable of rapid reproduction, which in turn strongly correlates to an increase in incidents between bears and humans.  The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, a sub-agency of the Department, has repeatedly stated that hunting is the only way to control the bear population and reduce human-bear conflicts. 

This year, 262 bear sightings were reported between January 1st and September 21st throughout New Jersey, according to DEP data. That’s about a 90% increase from the same time period in 2019 when there were 140 sightings statewide. Even more alarming, damage and nuisance incidents attributed to black bears increased by more than 61% during the same time period—increasing from 503 to 811 incidents! Back in August, a black bear had to be euthanized by the NJ Division of Wildlife after the bear entered a garage and attacked an 82-year man who stumbled upon the animal raiding his refrigerator.

While Governor Murphy may pander to animal rights advocates with anti-hunting rhetoric, his administration will be hard-pressed to find another way to control the bear population and keep New Jerseyans safe. SCI has been involved in lawsuits related to bear hunting in New Jersey for over 15 years, most recently fighting to reopen state lands to bear hunting after the 2018 decision by Governor Murphy to ban bear hunting on all lands controlled by the NJ DEP. In mid-September, SCI made its case that the state land closure undermines New Jersey’s current bear management policy and puts New Jersey citizens at increased risk of bear encounters.  SCI and its co-Petitioners New Jersey Outdoor Alliance and Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation put on evidence during a three-day hearing that hunting is a necessary management tool to control New Jersey’s productive bear population.  That evidence included testimony from wildlife biologist Dr. John McDonald, who testified that banning hunters from state lands was the primary reason harvests have fallen the past two years and the bear population has increased by more than 40%.

New Jersey is home to the densest human and bear populations in the U.S. and boasts the second-highest number of human-bear conflicts.  As evidence in the legal case has shown, hunting is the only way to keep the bear population in check at a level that keeps the human population safe.  If Governor Murphy is really going to follow the science, then the next bear policy must include hunting.  If it does not, then the Governor will have chosen politics over public safety.

Want to stay up to date on this situation and others like it in New Jersey? Make sure you are signed up for SCI’s Hunter Advocacy Action Center!

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