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UPDATE: After 237% increase in bear-related incidents, N.J. council approves bear hunt

black bear

A regulated black bear hunt will likely begin on Dec. 5 after New Jersey’s Fish and Game Council approved amendments to the state’s game code.

The approvals came Tuesday afternoon at a meeting where members of the public largely opposed the bear hunt, many of whom represented animal rights groups and environmentalists.

Opponents say bear hunting is inhumane and many argue that Murphy’s decision is politically motivated. They say the state should practice better waste management by providing bear-resistant trash cans. They’re also against a provision that will allow hunters to use bait to lure their kill.

“The hunt is also dangerous to residents,” said Doris Lin, who represented the League of Humane Voters at Tuesday’s meeting. “People are 200 times more likely to be killed in a hunting accident than by a black bear. Hunting fatalities in the state are so common they barely make the news.”

Many who support the bear hunt say they represent farmers, hunters, and sportspeople.

“Emotionally and politically-based decision-making has no place when it comes to wildlife, the safety of people, livestock, nor the protection of agricultural crops,” said Christina Jones, a Warren county resident.

The council also approved amendments that would prohibit people from hunting cubs under 75 pounds or adult bears accompanying cubs.

Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to sign off on the approvals. He signaled the return of a bear hunt last Friday, allowing the public just five days to provide feedback ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

It’s a stark change in policy for the second-term Democrat who ended the practice in 2018 after he promised animal rights activists he would do so on the campaign trail. In August, amid growing concern and after reports of a bear attack in Sussex County, Murphy said his administration was monitoring the situation closely.

“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,” Murphy said in a statement.

“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”

He added that New Jersey families deserve to be protected from possible harm.

“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 from the growing black bear population.”

New Jersey’s black bear population in Morris, Passaic, Sussex, and Warren counties has greatly increased, with estimates nearing 3,000 black bears, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. The department says, if left untouched, the bear population could grow to more than 4,000 within the next two years.

Reports of bear-related incidents increased by 237% from January to October, compared to the same time last year, according to the DEP. That includes reports of aggressive encounters with people, bears breaking into homes, attacks on livestock, and major property damage.

The Fish and Game Council meeting begins at 10 a.m., and the meeting’s agenda is posted on the agency’s website.