NJ judges allow bear hunt to continue — but is the fight really over?
🐻 A judge had temporarily halted the return of the New Jersey bear hunt but the courts have allowed the hunt to continue this week
⚖ The legal fight, however, is not over for opponents of the hunt
❎ Gov. Murphy had campaigned on ending the hunt but eventually changed his mind
The state Department of Environmental Protection said the bear hunting season will start at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The hunt ends for the day around an hour later, 30 minutes after sunset, but check stations will be open until 7 p.m.
The hunt will run daily from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset through Saturday. Unless 20% of tagged bears are killed in that time, it can be extended to Wednesday through Saturday of next week.
The appeals court panel – consisting of two judges, including the one who issued the initial stay last week – said the opponents can continue to pursue an appeal but without the injunction holding up the hunt. It said a long-term stay requires meeting a “considerable burden” that was not cleared.
“We recognize the significant yet competing public interests underscoring both parties' arguments,” the court said in its ruling. “For example, appellants contend the black bear population will be diminished and hunting accidents could occur.
“On balance, however, the public interest advanced by respondents is grounded in the protection of the public from the growing bear population and commensurate damage and nuisance incidents. In our view, the balance of hardships tips in respondents' favor.”
The appellate judges, Lisa Rose and Carmen Messano, said they weren’t convinced the appellants’ right to due process was violated because they attended and provided public comment at the Nov. 15 public meeting of the Fish and Game Council.
Bear hunts were held annually in the state from 2010 through 2020, although Gov. Phil Murphy barred the hunts from state-owned lands starting in 2018. No hunt was held last year.
However, the state moved to reinstate the hunt last month amid an increase in bear sightings. Reports of nuisance bears and bears causing damage increased 237 percent between January through October of this year compared to the same period in 2021.
Nicholas Arrivo, managing attorney for Wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States, said those statistics are misleading and that the state didn’t meet the extraordinary standard required to adopt a hunt on an emergency basis, skipping some of the public input and review normally needed.
“This is a tragic day for New Jersey’s black bears,” Arrivo said. “The coming days will see them gunned down by the hundreds under the guise of a bogus emergency concocted to prevent experts and the public from scrutinizing the astonishing lack of sound science supporting the state’s decision.”
“The harm this hunt will inflict on the bear population – and to the tenets of transparency and accountability in state government decision-making – may be irreversible,” he said.
The court said it took the effect on bears into account.
“We acknowledge, however, that when the bear hunting season commences and bears are invariably killed, some harms embodied in appellants' remaining contentions may be irreparable,” it said. “Nonetheless, consideration of the remaining Crowe factors militates against granting a stay.”
Attorney Dante DiPirro said the ability to proceed with the appeal “may be meaningless” since the scheduled hunt ends no later than next week and court proceedings take much longer.
“The deck is stacked against those seeking to challenge public policy initiated via emergency rulemaking,” DiPirro said. “Council had data at least since January 2022 and failed to initiate rulemaking in the normal course. The Council sandbagged appellants and residents by waiting until Thanksgiving to announce an emergency rule to authorize a hunt a mere three weeks later.”
DiPirro said the negative implications go beyond the bear hunt to set a precedent that “the state can manufacture a so-called ‘emergency’ without there being a meaningful opportunity to challenge the asserted facts and thus bypass rulemaking requirements and immediately implement new law.”
“True emergencies are things like earthquakes or nuclear plant meltdowns, not shooting bears as they go into hibernation,” he said.