TRENTON – It appears that the bear hunt in northwestern New Jersey will not start as scheduled Monday, if at all, after a state appellate judge issued a stay sought by hunt opponents Wednesday.

Animal-rights groups went to court challenging the hunt, which was hastily approved by the Fish and Game Council at a mid-November meeting. They say it was an inappropriate use of the state’s emergency rulemaking powers and will now have the chance to make that case in court.

Appellate Judge Lisa Rose directed that the motion for emergent relief from the Animal Protection League of New Jersey and its allies must be filed by 4 p.m. Friday, with the state’s response due by 4 p.m. Monday.

Given that the hunt was supposed to start a half-hour before sunrise Monday, it is at least temporarily on hold.

“The Appellate Division issued a stay today and gave my clients permission to file further court papers on Friday challenging the emergency rule that authorized the hunt,” said attorney Dante DiPirro.

“The hunt cannot go forward in the meantime,” said Madeline Bove of The Humane Society of the United States.

The Governor’s Office and the Department of Environmental Protection declined to comment.

It appears that slightly over half of the 11,000 permits available for the bear hunt have been sold, according to a check of the DEP’s online permit availability website. That doesn’t necessarily mean around 5,500 hunters had registered, as people are allowed permits for up to two of the five zones.

Bear hunts were held annually in the state from 2010 through 2020.

Gov. Phil Murphy prevented the hunt from taking place on state lands from 2018 to 2020, and there wasn’t a hunt at all last year because a comprehensive bear management plan wasn’t in place.

Citing safety concerns amid an increase in complaints about bear sightings, Murphy changed course, allowing for a hunt to go forward on an emergency basis this year and, depending on the vote after a public hearing in January, annually after that.

Black bear incidents reported to the DEP from January through October of this year were 237% above the same period in 2021. They included 62 aggressive encounters with humans, one human attack, 12 dog attacks, 12 home entries, 15 attempted home entries, 84 instances of property damage exceeding $1,000 and 52 attacks on protected livestock.

The DEP estimates the black bear population is near 3,000 in Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties and says it is projected to grow to more than 4,000 bears in the next two years. Critics say that growth rate is an exaggeration.

The bear hunting season was scheduled to run from Dec. 5 to 10, concurrent with the six-day firearm season for deer hunting. It could be extended to Dec. 14 to 17, if the state’s target for reducing the bear population by 20% isn’t met.

Hunting is to be permitted on state and private lands, within designated hunting zones.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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