The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (â€œDEPâ€) has authorized a bear hunt in New Jersey that will run from December 5th through December 10th. As I wrote here, here, here, and here, New Jersey had a bear hunt in 2003, which was the first such hunt authorized in 33 years. The hunt was not without a good deal of controversy, publicity and litigation by animal rights groups.
In addition to the 2003 hunt, a hunt was also planned for 2004. However, the 2004 hunt was blocked by the New Jersey State Supreme Court, which held that a more comprehensive plan for managing the bear population in New Jersey (i.e. one that provides for more than simply permitting a hunt) must be put into place before it would permit a bear hunt.
Consistent with the Courtâ€™s mandate, the current plan includes provisions for improved trash control, public education about bears and increased bear research.
The DEPâ€™s justification for authorizing the hunt is that the bear population has increased since the 2003 hunt, as have the number of dangerous bear-people confrontations. Additionally, the increase in population has resulted in the bears migrating into the more heavily populated areas of the state.
The animal rights groups are not happy. One group challenged the hunt on the grounds that the plan does not provide evidence to show that the hunt is designed to focus on the bears that are responsible for the bear-human conflicts. (I am puzzled as to how this might be accomplished, and I am mindful that the law does not permit one to shoot a bear who shows up in oneâ€™s back yard.) Another group claims the hunt is not necessary and that the key to the bear problem is â€œgarbage controlâ€.
Now, for those of you who did not have the time or inclination to open up the above links (I donâ€™t blame you), you might be surprised to learn that New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the Union, is home to approximately 3,300 black bears. Although most of them are in the northwestern part of the state, it has been reported that bears have been seen in each of New Jerseyâ€™s twenty-one counties.***
I do not claim to have the answer to the problem of managing the bear population in New Jersey, but I do know that if everyone who applied for a bear-hunting permit were to get one, we will have 4,000 people running around with shotguns in a small part of the state for six days in December. That is a good reason not to take a walk in the woods in that part of the state during that time, particularly if you happen to look anything like a black bear.