In early October, the state Division of Fish and Wildlife held an archery and muzzle-loading rifle black bear hunt.

Part 2 of the hunt, for muzzle-loading firearms and shotguns, begins Monday and ends Saturday.

But this could also mean the end for good for bear hunts in New Jersey. Gov-elect Phil Murphy, who takes office in January, has called for a moratorium on hunts until officials could determine whether or not nonlethal population control methods could be just as effective.

Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the total number of bears that hunters can kill is based on a specific formula developed to keep the overall bear population in check in New Jersey.

“It’s based on the total number of bears that have been handled by the Division of Fish and Wildlife in one form or another during the course of the year,” he explained.

“The overall rate that we’re looking for in terms of harvest is 30 percent (of tagged bears during 2017). That’s what our science indicates is good for keeping the bear population sustainable as well as keeping the number of bear incidents involving property and people in check.”

During the October hunt, 16 bears that had been tagged, about 12 percent of the total Jersey bear population that had been tagged, were killed and brought to check-in stations by hunters.

The total number of bears killed by hunters during the October hunt was 244.

“So we have quite a bit of room in this week’s hunt to reach the 30 percent,” said Hajna.

He said hunters are required to report every bear they get during the hunt, and the DEP will keep track of the total number of tagged bears killed and end the hunt when the number reaches 40.

Hajna said since October of last year, when the double hunt program began, “we’ve seen a dramatic decline in the number of bear incidents.”

“The number of category 1 bear complaints, which are the most serious encounters with people, has dropped 66 percent, and overall bear incidents have dropped 57 percent.”

But Doris Lin, the director of legal affairs for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, said these statistics are fake.

“If you go on these hunting websites online they encourage each other to call in bear complaints to justify bear hunting, so we don’t consider this to be scientific data,” she said.

“The bear hunt is a terrible idea, it is a purely recreational hunt.”

She noted online hunting support groups encourage New Jersey residents to make the bear hunt their new “hunting tradition,” and they recently sent out an email encouraging folks to give hunting licenses for next year’s hunt as Christmas gifts.

“This is not wildlife management, this is recreational hunting, this is trophy hunting.”

Hajna stressed the bear hunt is necessary, saying it’s a good addition to the comprehensive bear management policy that’s been developed.

“It is just one of many tools, education remains very important.”

He agrees that feeding bears, intentionally or unintentionally, by leaving out garbage  can attract them to areas where humans live, which is a serious problem. So it’s vitally important to keep trash and bird feeders locked up securely, out of reach in areas frequented by bears.

To make sure no one accidentally gets shot during the bear hunt, New Jersey has a 450-foot safety zone around buildings and playgrounds during hunts.

Also on New Jersey 101.5:

 

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com