New Jersey will allow hunters to use guns and bows to slaughter black bears for the first time in four years, in a major policy reversal for Gov. Philip Murphy, the Goldman Sachs millionaire who campaigned for a first term on a pledge to stop killing the animals.
The Fish and Game Council approved by a unanimous vote the state’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy (CBBMP), which means there will be a bear hunt before the plan is filed and published in the register on December 19, 2023.
Most of the roughly three dozen speakers who addressed the council before its vote urged the nine-member panel not to authorize the bear hunt.
New Jersey is expected to authorize a six-day bear hunt, starting Dec. 5. If 20 percent of the estimated bear population is not killed during that window, the hunt could be extended for another four days, according to the environmental agency. Permits are likely to go on sale on Thursday.
Public comment on the CBBMP will be held in mid January.
“It is a tyrannical response to a fabricated problem,” Annette Batson, the founder of Humane Montclair, an animal advocacy organization, who
“It’s a recreational trophy hunt,” said Doris Lin, legal director for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, who plans to try to block the hunt in court.
The governor cited an increase in reported bear sightings and aggressive encounters.
Jeff Tittel, a former director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that recent data showing there were 433 reported bear sightings during the first 10 months of this year, did not differ significantly enough from past years to warrant emergency action.
Tittel said he believes that the governor’s sudden policy shift has more to do with Murphy’s national political ambitions and a desire not to offend the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Alluding to rumors that Murphy has presidential ambitions, Tittel said: “I think that the governor is doing this because as someone who is for gun control, he doesn’t want to be running in Ohio and New Hampshire and Pennsylvania and Michigan being for gun control and being against hunting because that hurts him with the voters.”
Wade Stein, president of the NRA-affiliated New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, praised Murphy’s decision, but critics say Murphy failed to take serious steps to reduce chances of bears running into humans.
“We all know that access to garbage is a major problem,” said Deptford resident John Gfrorer. “So what specifically has been done to solve the issue? Evidently really nothing.”
Other representatives of the Sierra Club who testified at the Fish and Game Council, strongly disagreed with Murphy’s justification for reversing his Executive Order to allow a black bear hunt in New Jersey.
“Since the outset of my administration, I have promised to ground every difficult decision on the latest science and evidence in order to protect our communities,” said Murphy. “From the data we have analyzed to the stories we have heard from families across the state, it is clear that New Jersey’s black bear population is growing significantly, and nonlethal bear management strategies alone are not enough to mitigate this trend.”
“The decision by the Fish and Game Council to approve a hunt for December is beyond disappointing,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Anjuli Ramos-Busot. “The state has failed to effectively implement a non lethal management plan. Instead the NJDEP focused on a marketing campaign that completely failed.”
“The state needs to go directly to communities with high bear populations, educate them on smart behavior and provide them with the incentives for better management of trash,” said Ramos- Busot. “The public came out —even with a five-day notice— and completely opposed this hunt. The Council still voted yes, unanimously, demonstrating that the decision was already made before the meeting even started.”
Humane Society New Jersey State Director Elissa Frank said it is “poor public policy” that will allow an “unsustainable slaughter of our state’s beloved bears.”
Ramos-Busot blamed Murphy, contending “this is unacceptable” that a bear hunt across New Jersey state land seems imminent.
The decision clears the way for state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette to approve the decision as Murphy rescinds his 2018 executive order that banned bear hunts on state property.
The reinstated bear hunting season will run from Dec. 5 through Dec. 10, the same as the six-day firearm season for deer.
Officials intend to hit a 20% population harvest target and if that is not reached, the season will be extended to the following week, Dec. 14 through Dec. 17. Bear hunting will be permitted on state and private lands within designated kill zones.
The council is also implementing strict prohibitions on cubs under 75 pounds, the taking of adults traveling in family packs with cubs below 75 pounds and restrictions on the practice of baiting.
LaTourette said Tuesday’s actions were an emergency order and he will sign the plan for authorization of the hunt under those terms while the approval of the Comprehensive Bear Management Policy will be voted on early next year.