A group of animal rights organizations has gone to court in an effort to stop the black bear hunt in New Jersey, which is scheduled to start just before sunrise on Monday.
“The Fish and Game Council unlawfully used emergency powers to ram through an unpopular and unnecessary hunt while denying New Jersey citizens their due process rights under state law,” said Kate Hendrix in the news release announcing the lawsuit, which was filed in state court on Tuesday. She is staff attorney for the Humane Society of the United States.
She added, “The public is not facing any ‘imminent peril’ from New Jersey’s bruins, and the numbers that the agency cites to claim otherwise are misleading and taken out of context. The real emergency is the threat hundreds of New Jersey’s bears will face if this horrific, unscientific hunt is not stopped.”
If not stopped by a court, the hunt would be the first in two years. And for the previous two years, state-owned lands, including Wildlife Management Areas owned by the state Division of Fish and Game and all other state parks and forests, were closed to bear hunting.
As directed by the state's Fish and Game Council, the bear hunt is scheduled to begin a half-hour before sunrise on Monday and run through a half-hour after sunset on Saturday. The hunt in limited to shotguns and licensed hunters who obtained a $2 permit to bear hunt in one of five specific zones in the northwestern part of the state.
The news release said the groups filing the lawsuit include the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, the Humane Society of the United States and Friends of Animals. Calling the bear season a "black bear trophy hunt," the news release also stated the hunt "was authorized by the New Jersey Fish and Game Council earlier this month. Hunt clubs nominate six of the council's eleven members."
According to the state Constitution, the council members are appointed by the governor with the consent of the state Senate. The 11 members of the council include six members representing "sportsmen," three representing "farmers," one from the "public," and the chair of the Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee.
Sportsmen candidates could also be recommended to the governor by fishing, wildlife and conservation organizations. They are not paid and have legal oversight of the Division of Fish and Wildlife and set the state's hunting and fishing laws as well as determine, on recommendation by DFW biologists, game and fish which can legally be taken.
According to their news release, the groups are accusing the F&G Council of a "misuse of an emergency rulemaking loophole to bypass required procedures that guarantee the public the right to weigh in and require the Council to respond to said public comments."
The council did, earlier this month, hold a public meeting at the State Museum Auditorium to accommodate a larger crowd that could fit in the body's regular meeting room. "Despite having ample time to comply with these procedures, the Council forced through a last-minute emergency rule, leaving the public no time to respond," the group charges.
The activists said they are suing to stop the hunt because it "targets hundreds of bears and sets no express limitation on the number that can be killed. The Council advanced the proposal without counting the number of bears in New Jersey and without performing a scientifically sound estimate of the population."
In actuality, the biologists within DFW, have continued work on estimating the black bear population as part of the constant study of the bruin population. The hunt has precautions in the regulations that should 30 percent of the estimated population be harvested, the DEP commissioner must order a stop to the hunt.
However, if less than 20 percent of the population estimate is killed during the first six days, the hunt can be extended by up to four more days, Dec. 14-17.
"The Council then went further by claiming without evidence that the state’s bear population will expand by a preposterous 33% in just two years without a hunt." the activists charge. "That speculation has no basis in science; black bears are extremely slow to reproduce."
However, biologists and researchers note that New Jersey's female black bears litters are higher than averages in other states, and survivability of cubs is among the highest in the U.S.
“The Council is not above the law and should not be allowed to impede public input by fabricating an ‘emergency,’” said Jennifer Best, Director of Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program. “The only thing that will keep the public safe and black bears wild is education on simple and effective solutions, such as bear-resistant trash cans and removing bird feeders from March through November.”
Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to stop the bear hunt when he ran for a second term and did use his power to ban bear hunting on state-owned land for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. While the Fish and Game Council approved an updated Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy, the DEP commissioner would not sign it. Without a CBBMP in place, there could be no bear hunt in 2021.
But the DFW continued its work on black bears and compiling human-bear encounters which nearly tripled this year compared to 2021 statistics. A study by the New Jersey Herald in late October also showed that the state's numbers were actually well below the number of reports. Local police departments and state troopers in area where there is no local police coverage often are called to black bear complaints, but there is no requirement that the departments also notify DEP.
In its news release, the animal rights groups claimed "the number of incidents reported this year is not unusually high compared to many other years during which hunts were conducted. In fact, over 90% of bear-related complaints were reports of routine bear behavior and incidents that pose no imminent danger to the public, such as sightings of injured bears and bears seeking food from unsecured garbage cans and bird feeders.
"To date, the state has failed to take steps to establish the trash control programs that have successfully mitigated conflicts in Western states," the news release claims.
The activists most often point to Boulder, Colo., which sits in the Rocky Mountains. However that city, and Boulder County, have local laws which mandate how trash is to be stored and collected. In New Jersey, one town tried to mandate "bear-proof" trash containers, but the program did not receive public support.
This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: NJ bear hunt 2022 protest, lawsuit started by rights groups