The Murphy Administration will allow a bear hunt this year, reversing a nonlethal policy initiative then went into effect just a year ago and won applauded by GOP lawmakers in North Jersey.
Five days before the New Jersey Fish and Game Council will meet to discuss the approval of the State’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy, Gov. Phil Murphy confirmed he will not stand in the way of amendments to reintroduce a regulated black bear hunt beginning in December. The move is being done to reduce the black bear population and dangerous bear-human interactions.
“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 in his statement Nov. 10. “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.”
An increase of 237%
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates that the black bear population in Morris, Passaic, Sussex, and Warren counties has increased, nearing 3,000 according to estimates. Meanwhile, reported black bear incidents, including dangerous human-bear interactions, have jumped by 237% compared to the same period in 2021.
State officials sid those interactions included 62 aggressive encounters with humans, 12 dog attacks, 12 home entries, 15 attempted home entries, 84 instances of property damage exceeding $1,000, 52 attacks on protected livestock and one human attack.
Driven by Data
The hunt was suspended on state lands in 2018 to provide an opportunity to evaluate the feasibility of exclusively using non-lethal measures to maintain the population in a manner that is protective of the public’s safety. With the expiration of the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Plan in 2021, no bear hunting has taken place on any lands in New Jersey since 2020.
“Every New Jerseyan deserves to live in communities in which their children, families, and property are protected from harm,” said Murphy. “While I committed to ending the bear hunt, the data demands that we act now to prevent tragic bear-human interactions.”
“We must responsibly adapt to the population with carefully regulated and strict bear population management strategies to ensure our communities and families are protected.”
The black bear population is projected to grow to more than 4,000 bears in the next two years. In the absence of population control measures, the rate of population growth will compound in future years as a greater number of female bears reproduce, with a hunt as the only scientifically sound method of restraining unchecked growth and dispersal, according to officials.
GOP Lawmakers Pleased
The decision was commended by the 24th Legislative District delegation and expressed appreciation for Murphy’s willingness to follow the wildlife experts.
“Hunting is an important part of the comprehensive set of practices that the state employs to manage the black bear population and minimize danger to people and property,” said State Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-24). “By his executive action to allow the bear hunt to recommence, I believe the Governor is recognizing this fact and I applaud his actions.”
“Going forward, I hope the Administration will continue to follow the data and allow the wildlife conservation experts—who best understand the issue—to guide New Jersey’s bear management policies.”
North Jersey Issue
The North Jersey lawmakers noted that while there have been sightings in all 21 counties, Sussex incurred the most incidents, 701, followed by Morris with 411, and Warren with 272. Living in Sussex County, the three legislators pointed out that bear sightings have become so common that most aren’t officially reported.
“When hunting was banned, we saw a significant rise in bear sightings, property damage, crop damage, animal/human interactions and even cases of pets being hurt or killed,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths. “By heeding the advice of wildlife experts, the Administration is putting the public’s safety first where it should be. The wildlife scientists know best in these matters, and I trust they will be instrumental in designing a sustainable bear management policy for the future.”
Season Starts Dec. 5
The actions would reinstate a bear hunting season for Dec. 5-10 to run concurrently with the six-day firearm season for deer. If the 20% population harvest target is not reached, the season will be extended to the following week, Dec. 14-17. Bear hunting will be permitted on state and private lands within designated bear hunting zones.
The NJDEP will launch a broader Wildlife Management and Public Safety Initiative as well, including a trash management pilot to advance non-lethal strategies and the expansion of local government planning for deer population control.