TRENTON -- The New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, The Sportsmen's Alliance, and Safari Club International have announced a joint effort to sue Gov. Phil Murphy over his executive order banning bear hunting on state lands.

"What we want is for New Jersey sportsmen to have access to the public lands that they pay for and support, to pursue their outdoor heritage," NJOA spokesman Cody McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said bear hunters are paying for the upkeep of state lands through a federal law established in 1937 that taxes the sales of hunting and fishing equipment, and specifically grants the proceeds to each state's fish and wildlife department.

That means bear hunters are paying the same taxes to use the same lands, but they're now prohibited from hunting on them, he said.

McLaughlin said New Jersey's bear population is reaching carrying capacity and the "conservation hunt" is a legal and scientifically sound way to prevent interactions between bears and humans.

"The hunters that are going out there are harvesting bears for a specific biological outcome that's backed by some of the best ursine biologists in the country," he said.

Murphy had pledged to stop the bear hunt entirely as a candidate. But he said in August he'd instead block it in state lands, lacking the authority to eliminate it altogether. His order covers all state forests, parks, recreation areas, historic sites, wildlife management areas and natural areas.

Hunting is still permitted on certain private land, county parkland and farmland.

Black bears once lived in forests across New Jersey, but their numbers dwindled to less than 100 in northwest New Jersey by the mid-1900s as the state urbanized. The state put limits on bear hunting from 1953 to 1971, then ended it entirely.

The hunt returned in 2003, when 328 bears were killed, and 2005, when 298 were killed. The hunts were then stopped again during Gov. Jon Corzine’s term, but returned under Gov. Chris Christie.

In the last eight years, just over 3,400 bears were killed, an average of about 430 a year.

— With previous reporting by Michael Symons

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