Update 12/1/22: The start of the New Jersey bear hunt has been put on indefinite hold, as we, along with the Animal Protection League of New Jersey and Friends of Animals, challenge the decision to hold the hunt in court.
In a stunningly shortsighted and ill-advised decision, New Jersey officials voted Tuesday to bring back the state’s trophy hunt of black bears.
The disappointing move was approved Tuesday by a unanimous vote of the state’s Fish and Game Council and supported by a finding of “imminent peril” to public safety by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, in a stark reversal of his multiple campaign promises to prohibit bear hunts in the Garden State. We, along with many other animal protection groups and advocates in New Jersey, are wondering where the “emergency” is and why state authorities felt the need to circumvent the customary regulatory process.
Such an emergency rulemaking dispenses with the standard procedures requiring appropriate notice of the action and an opportunity for public comment; by law, it may be used only when the public is facing “imminent peril.”
In this case, there is no such peril. Between January and October of this year, bear attacks on humans increased by one, bear attacks on domestic dogs increased by five, and incidents of bears entering vehicles increased by four compared to the same window of time in 2021.
But the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has artificially inflated the threat posed by black bears in the state by citing larger increases of significantly less dangerous interactions, such as sightings of injured bears and instances of bears looking for food in trash cans. By invoking an alleged “emergency,” New Jersey is doing a disservice to the public and nothing in regard to protecting its interests. State authorities excluded members of the public from participating in a decision that is likely to incite fear while harming New Jersey’s black bear population for years to come.
As Elissa Frank, our state director in New Jersey, noted at Tuesday’s hearing before the council: “Invoking an emergency rule to allow the trophy hunting of 20% of our state’s beloved bear population—when no emergency exists—is simply poor public policy and will allow an unsustainable slaughter of our state’s bears.”
Beyond that, it goes against sound science. Data from around the world shows that bear hunts do absolutely nothing to reduce human-bear conflicts and could actually increase them.
If New Jersey is serious about reducing human-bear conflicts, it ought to rely on established science and experience, and make the needed investments in proven-effective measures. These include providing residents with bear-resistant trash cans, educating the public about how human behavior can exacerbate conflicts, and enforcing laws and ordinances that help limit food attractants. In Colorado, the governor has done this, and granted $1 million to be split between local communities to find innovative solutions to reduce bear conflicts for the long term to stop the needless cycle of killing bears.
New Jersey would also do well to listen to its residents. A recent poll found that New Jersey voters disapprove of black bear trophy hunting by a two-thirds majority. And less than 1% of New Jersey residents hold a paid hunting license, with bear hunters making up an even tinier percentage of that. It’s nonsensical to ignore the wishes of the vast majority of constituents to satisfy the whims of a small segment of the population.
Without exception, all states that allow trophy hunting seasons of black bears still experience human-bear conflicts. In contrast, communities that have invested in comprehensive approaches to reducing human-bear conflict through bear awareness education initiatives and through providing tools and resources, like bear-resistant trash cans, have seen real progress. The choice is clear. We can resolve wildlife issues by reasonable thinking and humane approaches, not pandering to the few parties demanding a bear head or hide to hang on a wall.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.