In 1958, New Jersey opened its first regulated bear-hunting
season. In 1970, after hunters wiped out black bears in New
Jersey, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW)
halted the hunt.
As New Jersey’s bear population began to recover, efforts
to re-establish the hunt, predictably, began gaining steam
as well. But animal advocates fought back. In 1988, the first
bear hunt ban bill was introduced in the New Jersey legislature,
and animal advocates have been waging a war against the resumption
of bear hunting ever since. Massive educational efforts throughout
the 1990s successfully fought off several unofficial hunts.
In 1997, when the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
held hearings throughout the state on the ‘management’
of black bears, hundreds came forward to express their outrage
toward any form of bear hunting.
The DFW, the Fish and Game Council (FGC) and hunter groups
forged ahead. They launched a successful bear slander campaign
and solicited the public to report every bear sighting and
encounter. It worked. Articles detailing bear encounters starting
appearing in all our newspapers, making the bears Public Enemy
#1. Emboldened by this media support, in March, 2000 the FGC,
under the DFW, proposed to reopen the bear hunting season,
including over 30 days of hunting with bows, guns and muzzleloaders.
DFW was caught off guard by the ensuing, massive public backlash,
which forced then-governor Whitman to ask the DFW to cancel
the hunt 8 days before it was due to start. This was our first
official victory against bear hunting, and it raised the public's
awareness of the DFW and FGC. Soon afterward, efforts to dismantle
the FCG began popping up throughout New Jersey. Two years
passed without any more hunt proposals, but the opposition
continued to attack bears regularly.
Governor Whitman's plan to stop the bear hunting did contain
one flaw: It allowed the killing of bears that presented any
threat to people. Animal activists were generally not concerned
with this, because black bears are typically timid and gentle
creatures, and to date, no one in our state has ever been
killed or seriously injured by a black bear.
But the DFW used the loophole in Whitman's plan to develop
an internal policy that systematically kills bears, hoping
to garner public support for a bear hunt. This policy became
known as the “Category System.” Category One black
bears -- defined as any bear coming within ten feet of a person
or building and/or exhibiting behavior that is a threat to
human safety or causing serious property damage -- constitute
an immediate threat to life and property and are to be destroyed.
Category Two black bears -- “nuisance” bears that
are not an immediate threat to life and property -- may be
treated with aversive conditioning or relocated. Category
Three bears exhibit “normal” behavior in that
they are not creating a nuisance and are not a threat to public
Since the creation of the Category System, over 80 "Category
One" bears have been killed, with each one being reported
to the press. In 2003, heightened concerns about black bears
gave FGC a renewed opportunity to put forth another hunt proposal.
Governor James McGreevey, paying debts to developers, allowed
the first black bear hunt in over 33 years to be held in December
The death toll of that hunt was 333 bears—35% of which
were just cubs and yearlings, under 2 years old. Overall,
hunters killed114 males and 219 females, the deaths of whom
likely left many more cubs orphaned to die slowly and painfully.
The press reported every kill, and pictures of dead bears
covered the front pages of every local newspaper. The media
attention was local, state, national and international. The
public responded with intense and swift outrage, and the DEP
held press conferences promising that McGreevey's administration
would not hold another hunt.
DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell pledged to do everything
within his power to stop a 2004 hunt. His efforts included
writing to and meeting with the DFW and FGC before they tried
to propose another hunt. But they ignored Campbell and refused
to back down.
Undaunted, Campbell decided to withhold bear hunt permits
and to close all DEP-controlled lands to bear hunting. In
response, the Sportsmen's Federation and the Safari Club International
filed lawsuits. The court rulings were mixed: While the appellate
court judges ordered Campbell to start issuing the permits
again, they upheld Campbell's authority to close DEP-controlled
state lands. In the ruling, the judges stated that the Safari
Club did not demonstrate "any public safety or other
vital public interest that requires state lands be open to
bear hunting," and the fact that the FGC set a 2004 bear
season did not mean Campbell's order was arbitrary.
Campbell decided to appeal the appellate court's permit decision
to the Supreme Court, and on December 2, four days before
the bear hunt was to begin, the state Supreme Court reversed
the appellate court's decision. It ruled in favor of DEP Commissioner
Bradley, giving him the authority to withhold the bear hunt
permits. In its ruling, the court said there was no current
comprehensive black bear management plan and until the hunt
could be proven to be scientifically justified, the hunt would
be called off. The ruling can be viewed at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/supreme/bear.pdf.
We expect a comprehensive opinion from the Supreme Court within
the next several months.
While this order gives Commissioner Campbell the authority
he needs to call off the 2004 hunt, we may not be as fortunate
next year. We need black bears to be protected permanently,
and it is imperative that we continue to fight this battle
on all fronts. New Jersey residents can keep the issue alive
via letters to the editor and by demanding that legislators
support the black bear protection bill (A.2704) and restructuring
the FGC (A.2852) is critical to protecting black bears permanently.
For more details on how you can help the bear and to keep
informed on an ongoing basis, please visit
www.nj-ara.org and www.savenjbears.com.