New Jersey is poised to allow trophy hunters to kill the state’s beloved black bears starting next month using barbaric methods like baiting the animals with piles of rotting sugary food. The plan would also allow hunters to chase bears off state lands, where bear hunting is not allowed, and onto private lands, just so they can be killed. Worse, it would allow the killing of baby bear cubs—a cruelty now allowed in only one other state, Alaska.
This unethical policy from the state's Division of Fish and Wildlife is highly unpopular within the state, and a Humane Society of the United States poll last year showed that a supermajority of New Jersey residents oppose it. An even stronger majority is opposed to bear baiting. But unfortunately, attempts in the state legislature to prohibit baiting bears or bear trophy hunting have not been brought up for full floor votes.
We are now calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to fulfill his campaign promise to end this state-sanctioned cruelty by issuing an executive order to suspend the hunt. This is especially important this year in the midst of a pandemic. States surrounding New Jersey do not allow the controversial practice of bear baiting, so the state has become a haven for out-of-state trophy hunters looking to kill a bear using this unsporting practice. Exposing New Jersey residents to an influx of out-of-state visitors is simply not a smart idea—nor a safe one for its residents—at the present time.
A coalition of groups, including the HSUS, has presented the governor with other options. We have also submitted an administrative rule-making petition to the Department of Environmental Protection asking it to repeal the current rules permitting a bear hunting season and to update them with a truly comprehensive management policy.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife estimates the New Jersey bear population at about 5,000 individuals. While proponents of trophy hunting claim this is a large number, that is simply not true given the high rates of mortality among these animals. More than 2,000 bears have been killed by trophy hunters over just the past five years in New Jersey, and this number is in addition to the untold numbers of bears killed by poachers, vehicle strikes and orphaned cubs who die of starvation.
Bears are sentient and familial animals who spend prolonged periods raising and nurturing their cubs. They don’t need to be "managed" through trophy hunting—their populations self-regulate based on natural food availability and their own very slow reproductivity. Bears are also integral to the health and biodiversity of their forest ecosystem. These omnivores feed on berries, fruits and nuts, helping to disperse seeds through their feces. They also break logs while they’re grubbing for insects and other food, helping them decompose so nutrients can return to the soil.
On the other hand, science shows that practices like bear baiting can actually lead to conflicts with bears because the trophy hunters dump tons of human food in the woods as bait, unnaturally increasing bear densities in those areas. Moreover, bears who live close to urban and suburban areas, and are usually the ones said to be causing "conflicts," are not the ones targeted by trophy hunters as these areas are off-limits to hunters.
Instead of offering its black bears for killing, New Jersey would do better to invest its resources into educating the public about how to effectively and humanely prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place, and enforcing trash management regulations. Commonsense steps like using bear-resistant trash cans, taking down bird feeders (especially in the summer and fall), and bringing pet food indoors are simple, efficient and easy steps that everyone can follow. Farmers can reduce conflicts by erecting electric fencing around lambing and calving pastures, bee hives, chicken coops and livestock feed.
Recently, we reported on Missouri’s plan to open its bear population to trophy hunters, and every summer we hear media reports about black bears killed simply after being spotted in neighborhoods. This is no way to treat these beloved American carnivores, and we will not stand for it. We are fighting attempts in Missouri to open a black bear hunt, and we will do everything in our power to stop this cruel hunt in New Jersey. Gov. Murphy has talked a lot about protecting black bears, and he signed an executive order in 2018 that banned bear hunting on state owned lands. But there is a lot more he can do to protect New Jersey’s black bears from trophy hunters, and we urge him to act decisively and urgently to do so.