End of New Jersey bear season looms – and likely for a while

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey has stretched out the latest black bear hunting season. And not because it could be the last such hunt for quite some time.

But, regardless, time is ticking down on what has become a controversial hunt.

Officials recently decided to extend New Jersey’s bear hunt because this year’s harvest has fallen short of harvest objectives. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, the extension started a half-hour prior to sunrise on Wednesday, Dec. 13 and will continue until a half-hour after sunset on Saturday, Dec. 16.

In a recent news release, Fish and Wildlife said, “The regulations require an extension of up to four days should a minimum 20-percent tagged bear harvest goal not be reached by the scheduled close of the December season. Since the cumulative rate did not reach 20 percent by the end of Saturday, December 9, the December season must be extended.”

According to Fish and Wildlife, northwestern New Jersey has one of the nation’s densest populations of black bears, a situation that has forced bears to expand territory into more populated areas of the state, increasing the risk of bear encounters with people and damage to property, the release said.

“Our goal is to utilize accepted scientific methodologies to maintain a sustainable bear population in the areas of the state where the population is densest, at the same time enhancing public safety by reducing the risk of encounters that could threaten property or endanger people,” Fish and Wildlife Director Larry Herrighty said in the release. “This approach has been very successful and has resulted in significant reductions in bear complaints.”

Still, this may be the last hunt for some time as Gov.-elect Phil Murphy is planning a moratorium. Recently, in a statement to the New Jersey Herald, the Democrat said “before authorizing another hunt, we need a fuller understanding and proof it works better than non-lethal (management) options.”

Before the extended season was announced, the potential for an extension drew about 60 protesters in Fredon Township. But in Hardyston Township, three bear hunters in New Jersey offered to destroy their hunting licenses if opponents would pay them $500 each, with the proceeds going to a food pantry and an animal shelter.

Michael Bush of Mountain Mike’s Sports Shop in Sussex County posted the challenge on Facebook. Bush told NJ.com he wants to see how much people care about the bears. State Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said it sounded like the three were trying to ransom the bears and trying to discredit the people who oppose the hunt.

According to Fish and Wildlife, 244 bears were harvested in the October archery and muzzleloader season, and 138 were harvested prior to the extension for the December shotgun and muzzleloader hunt. The bear hunting zones include all of Sussex, Warren, Morris and Hunterdon counties, as well as portions of Passaic, Somerset, Bergen, and Mercer counties.

Since the implementation of the two-segment system, the overall number of bear complaints has decreased 57 percent for the period Jan. 1 through Nov. 20 of this year, compared to the same period in 2016, Fish and Wildlife said. The overall number of the most serious incidents, known as Category 1 incidents, has dropped 64 percent, the release continued.

For information on New Jersey’s 2017 black bear hunt, including current and past harvest numbers, click here. For more information on black bears, including black bear biology and behavior, bear safety tips and bear education, click here.

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