This Monday marks the start of New Jersey’s six-day black bear hunt. Part of the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife’s “Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy,” this third annual hunt is part a five-year plan.
In this case, “managing” means killing. And not only that, but killing bears who have been scouted, targeted and baited. As their websites clearly show, hunters have been preparing for this gruesome week for months, maybe even since the last hunt ended with a reported 469 bears (including an unconscionable number of females) “harvested.”
That euphemism may salve the consciences of people who ought to know better – but it doesn’t do the bears any good.
So, yes, the hunt will happen again this year. Although there’s no way to stop the 2012 edition of the bear-slaughter and trophy collection, we can take steps now to head off next year’s hunt.
First, those who already believe New Jersey’s bears should live “full, productive and peaceful lives” should phone Governor Christie (609-292-6000) to register outrage over the slaughter and urge him to stop pandering to the violent minority of hunters, who make up less than 0.07 percent of New Jersey’s population.
Second, learn about NJ’s black bears – who are in fact shy and gentle giants too often confused with grizzly bears – much different temperamentally. Thousands of “bear country” residents signed petitions against the hunt last summer. They told their stories to bear advocates who went to town festivals, “tabled” and talked up the bears’ side of the issue.
Next, it’s advisable to learn about the hunt’s sponsoring agency, the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), in the State Dept. of Environmental Protection. Charges commonly leveled against DFW include indifference to non-lethal means of bear management, as shown by poor enforcement of the 2002 bear feeding law; employees whose salaries depend on revenue from hunters’ licenses; a state biologist for bears who bow-hunts for bears out of state.
In other words, the bear hunt is popular among would-be “big game” hunters and lucrative for DFW. This despite the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans who do not hunt, as well as the 70 percent of comments that were against a hunt when the current management plan was introduced and the 74 percent of voters polled who preferred non-lethal methods.
Even the word “hunt” is a misnomer, say informed bear advocates. “It’s a bait and shoot,” asserts Susan Russell, a wildlife policy specialist for the Animal Protection League of NJ and the Bear Education and Resource Group.
“Baiting” with “piles of vegetables, carcasses, honey and rancid meat, lures bears from the wild into communities, conditioning them to associate humans with easy food,” Russell explains. The Humane Society of the US reported in 2009 that bear baiting is banned in 18 of the 28 states that allow bear hunting.
New Jersey permits both bear and deer baiting. Speaking of sportsmanship – or shooting fish in a barrel.
The state’s black bears are getting a bad rap, one that makes an annual hunt seem necessary. Starting now, citizens who investigate, ask questions and learn about all sides of the bear hunt could make 2012 the last one.
Editor's note: The following correction was made to this article. The number of bears killed in 2011 was 469. The number initially reported, 592, was the 2010 total.
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Protests against the bear hunt are scheduled for 10 am on Monday, Dec. 3 and Saturday, Dec 8, at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area, in Fredon, NJ. Details, including parking information, at www.savenjbears.com.
Freelance writer Pat Summers also blogs at www.nj.com/pets.