On August 20th, to much fanfare, Gov. Phil Murphy signed someone's future death warrant. That's the day he did an end run around the legislature and through executive order closed off all state land to bear hunting. This cut almost in half the areas in which controlling the bear population through the annual bear hunt is allowed.

“Today, I am fulfilling my commitment to stop the bear hunt to the greatest extent of my authority by ordering the Department of Environmental Protection to prevent bear hunting on all public lands under the DEP’s jurisdiction during the 2018 season,” Murphy said in a prepared statement at the time. “I am also calling on the Legislature to take action on this critical issue. My first concern has always been public safety and before we authorize another hunt, we should review all non-lethal options.”

Sure it might sound like hyperbole on my part to say this action is signing someone's future death warrant. But consider the numbers and the possibilities here. The state offers 11,000 bear hunting permits. Last year, before this executive order, by this time 5,500 had been sold. This year? Only a little over 3,000. Way to go Murphy! You're cutting the land almost in half and you've cut the hunters to control the bear population almost in half too. It doesn't take a genius to figure out where this is going to go.

His own experts have already studied the issue of non-lethal options, and time and time again they have been deemed ineffective. Murphy won't listen to them. The real hyperbole here is protesters who speak in terms of driving our bear population extinct. Far from it. The hunts are controlled. They are scientifically designed to prevent over-harvesting. What happens if we go the other way and along with Murphy's ultimate goal?

John Rogalo, vice-president of the NJ State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs says after 8 years of bear hunts bears have learned to avoid humans. "They behave more like wild animals instead of a barnyard animal that doesn't fear humans. By stopping the hunt - it'll take a year or two - you'll reverse that trend."

Not only will bears begin revisiting more populated areas and lose their fear of humans, their numbers will be greater every year. Community meetings in public libraries telling people to put bear proof garbage cans out and take down bird feeders is not going to stop anything. The bear population will rise steadily, and quickly, encroachment into human inhabited areas occurs, and sooner or later a human being will be attacked. It's happened already to a Rutgers student, Darsh Patel, when a 300 pound chased him down and mauled him to death on a trail. As the bear population doubles then triples then quadruples, it's illogical to assume it won't happen again.

It's not a matter of bears being aggressive now. They generally are not. It's a matter of animals left to multiply fighting for territory and being forced to venture back into human neighborhoods, losing their fear, and growing desperate. It's a shame Murphy won't listen to his own experts on this important issue.

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