Hunter Hysteria won’t resolve human bear complaints in New Jersey
By Brian R. Hackett and Angi Metler
For those who have seen the recent press regarding New Jersey black bears, don’t be fooled by the hysterical disinformation campaign designed to push the highly unpopular, wasteful and cruel trophy hunting of these precious animals. Those hoping to trick the public into supporting another black bear trophy hunt regularly report rare instances of human-bear encounters, which could have been avoided with proper waste management and education.
Living in bear country is a privilege with responsibilities. Residents using simple “Bear Smart” techniques are paramount to avoiding human-bear encounters. Luckily, that’s the easy part. “Bear Smart” limits bird feeders and secures all bins. In areas where bears are common, it is essential to protect pets and animals that live outdoors.
Unfortunately, State Senator Steven Oroho (R-Sussex) and a tiny – but loud – contingent of hunters looking to revive a trophy black bear hunt are fueling a misplaced fear of bears. Senator Oroho talked about a bear in his driveway, but the reality is that all the past hunts he’s supported have done nothing to keep this bruin away. Hunts don’t do that – and even worse – give people a false sense of security.
Bear incidents rise and fall during and without hunting seasons. There is also no correlation between the number of bears and incidents. In 2001, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) estimated that there were about 1,777 bears in northern New Jersey. The total number of incidents reported that year was 1,736. In 2020, DFW estimated 3,158 bears and the total number of incidents was 1,407. 1.
We must applaud — not reverse — Governor Phil Murphy’s decision and pledge last year not to allow a deadly bear hunt while he is governor. Human-bear encounters are resolved through a proactive, truly comprehensive and science-based black bear management policy that offers proven solutions and mirror programs in places where there are far more bears than New Jersey. The takeaway: Keeping bears away from human-sourced food is key to reducing sightings, incidents, and increasing bear reproduction. This includes banning bear baiting by hunters, a totally irresponsible practice of habituating bears to human food in an effort to kill them easily in a trophy hunt. New Jersey’s past practice of allowing trophy hunters to bait bears with piles of donuts has resulted in bears habituating to human food and foraging in residents’ garbage.
Former state senator Raymond Lesniak proposed a comprehensive plan for “Bear Smart” legislation several years ago. People like Senator Oroho didn’t like it, even though it was a market-based system designed to reduce the cost of bear-resistant trash cans for the benefit of residents of bear country. Oroho incorrectly referred to this legislation as an “unfunded mandate”. If adopted, instead of a box costing around $100, some are paying upwards of $569 for bear-proof containers.
In addition to evidence of the success of these approaches in other states, science shows that bear hunting is ineffective in reducing bear population or sightings near residential areas. When non-lethal black bear management programs are in place, complaints and incidents decrease. In 2005, Rutgers professor Edward A. Tavvs studied the correlation between reduced black bear complaints and implementing a hunt versus a non-lethal program. The approach to hunting was studied by examining data from four US states (Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota) and Ontario, Canada. The non-lethal program was analyzed by examining data from three U.S. national parks (Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Great Smoky) and three communities bordering national parks (Juneau [Alaska]Elliot Lake [Ontario, Canada]and the Lake Tahoe Basin [Nevada]), as well as the state of New Jersey.
Tavvs has proven that black bear hunting does not reduce complaints. It correlates with the increase in complaints. The non-lethal approach, focused on trash control, results in fewer complaints. See the reporthere2.
According to state statisticsa dismal 0.3% – less than half a percent – of New Jersey residents hold a resident hunting license.
The overwhelming majority of our state’s residents do not hunt or support counterproductive black bear trophy hunting. These residents and black bear advocates agree that science should guide black bear management policies. Let’s not reinvent the wheel. Valerie Matheson, Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator in Boulder, runs an excellent bear program. She has developed benchmarks and phases for implementation and evaluation of success and is exceptionally well versed. She is an invaluable resource for New Jersey.
Let’s work with carriers – who have indicated their support in the past – to get affordable, bear-resistant cans where they’re needed. Let’s stop whining, stoking media hysteria; Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work to bring real solutions to our dear residents of bear country. Our the behavior is the problem; we must be the solution. We look forward to working with DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, Senate Speaker Nick Scutari, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and other legislative leaders this session on this matter. New Jersey needs “Bear Smart” solutions now.
Angi Metler, Executive Director, Animal Protection League of New Jersey
Brian R. Hackett, Director of Legislative Affairs, Animal Legal Defense Fund
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