NJ Bear Hunt Cancelled for 2000
from No Compromise Issue 17

By by Lynda Smith, the Bear Education And Resource Group (BEAR) and Janine Motta, New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance (NJARA)

New Jersey hasn't had a bear hunt in 30 years, but on March 22, 2000, the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife announced their plans to once again hunt and kill black bears. This was NOT a surprise to activists, who had long suspected a hunt would be imminent and had already laid the groundwork for a campaign to stop the hunt. Our response was instantaneous, resulting in a 6-month concerted effort that culminated in the cancellation of the bear hunt!

During that time, we found ourselves working with people and organizations with which we found common ground, despite some very obvious differences. Animal rights activists embraced animal welfare individuals, hunters who opposed the bear hunt, environmentalists and residents of bear country to forge alliances against one common enemy. By focusing on one primary issue – stopping the bear hunt – we were able to work together with spectacular results.

Key points in the campaign:

* Black Bear Newsletter - 60,000 copies distributed in 6 months, containing practical information on the timid nature of black bears, how to live peacefully with them, alternatives to bear hunting, and information on joining us to stop the hunt.
* Lawn sign, tote bags, baseball caps and bumperstickers helped advertise the issue as well as our Black Bear Hotline (732-446-6963) and our Black Bear Website (www.saveNJbears.com).
* Rally in Trenton, May 22 - close to 200 people rallied on the steps of the State House, demanding an end to the hunt. Our special guest speaker was wildlife management officer Steven Searles from Mammoth Lakes, California, who pioneered the development of aversive conditioning of black bears.
* A billboard reading "Only YOU Can Prevent Bear Hunting in New Jersey" was erected in the heart of "bear country."
* Senate Environment Committee Hearing, June 15 - black bear experts Lynn Rogers, PhD and Steve Searles flew in to testify in support of legislation to ban the bear hunt. The committee voted favorably on the bill.
* The Senate passed the Black Bear Protection Bill on June 26, by a vote of 32-6.
* The bill was stalled in the Assembly due to summer recess.
* A half-page ad was placed in the New Jersey's largest newspaper; other ads were also run.
* Representatives from the BEAR group and NJARA and Steve Searles met with the Governor's counsel urging that the hunt be canceled.
* Protests against key NJ legislators took place throughout the spring and summer.
* A candlelight vigil was held at the Governor's mansion on July 22. Over 200 people attended.
* Volunteers went to town council meetings throughout northern New Jersey urging them to pass resolutions against the bear hunt; 30 towns, representing over 350,000 residents, did so.
* Over 70,000 NJ residents signed petitions against the bear hunt.
* The Coalition to Protect NJ Black Bears consisting of 22 organizations with 330,000 NJ members opposed the hunt.
* Massive letter writing, faxing and phone calling to legislators and the Governor.

This issue got unprecedented media coverage, with stories on every major TV network, radio stations, newspapers and even the Discovery Channel.

On Friday, September 8, just 10 days before the hunt was to begin, Governor Christine Todd Whitman issued a formal request to the Fish & Game Council to call off the hunt. At a meeting on Tuesday, September 12, the Council voted 6-4 to comply with the governor's request. That the vote was not unanimous is indicative of the arrogance of the Council, to go against the will of the people, the will of the Senate and the wishes of the Governor.

While we are ecstatic that the hunt was canceled for this year, we are looking toward the future and are now working toward the passage of more comprehensive legislation that would protect black bears and provide funding for the implementation of nonlethal alternatives such as immuno-contraception, public education and aversive conditioning. For more information and continual updates, please visit www.savenjbears.com or call the Black Bear Hotline at (732) 446-6963.