Protesters Fight Back Against Expansion of Bear Harvest

By Brenda Flanagan

Protesters rallied in front of the State House targeting the state’s decision to expand next week’s sixth consecutive bear harvest in New Jersey. A protester in a bear suit, carrying an effigy of Governor Christie, tried to go inside, but state troopers said, “No.”

“There’s an Assembly today, so I can’t come in as a member of the public. You can’t have a dummy, you can’t have a suit, you can’t have signs,” said Edita Birnkrant.

Back outside, the bear revealed she’s a Friends of Animals member.

“I’m here to represent the thousands of bears that have been slaughtered in the woods for no good reason just to fulfill a campaign promise by Gov. Christie,” said Birnkrant.

An estimated 3,500 black bears live in New Jersey, and state regulators say that’s too many. They cite a rising number of incidents where bears interacted with people and property. Last November, a bear mauled a Rutgers student — who shot this photo on his cellphone before the bear killed him in a Passaic County park, police say.  The DEP claims, incidents like these endanger people and bears, and justify expanding the bear hunt. Protesters disagree.

“Bears are a timid and gentle species. They’re primarily vegetarian. There are simple things that you can do to keep bear encounters at a minimum,” Angi Metler said.

To that end, Senator Ray Lesniak sponsored legislation to end hunting with food bait and enforce better garbage control — with bear-proof containers.

“There’s absolutely no proof, no proof whatsoever, that bear hunts provide any safety to the public. There’s lots of proof where secure containers and food not left on the side protects the public and keeps bears where they want to be,” said Lesniak.

The 2013 bear hunt culled 251 bears and 272 last year. That’s seven to 10 percent of the population. But the DEP says hunters need to kill about 20 percent this year — some 700 bears — in order to stabilize the black bear’s expanding population in New Jersey.

The expanded hunt this year will include a new zone five that spans several counties. An extra week of hunting starts next October. The DEP calls that scientific population management, but protesters call it flawed.

“The comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy is scientifically flawed, and also its adoption is procedurally flawed. The adoption violates the Administrative Procedure Act,” Doris Lin said.

She says, the DEP miscounted public comments against expanding the bear hunt. The state reported 65 percent opposed the hunt, but the protest group’s recount shows out of a total 10,093 comments more than 92 percent opposed it, and only about eight percent supported it.

“It’s not a popularity contest,” the DEP’s Larry Hajna explained, noting the uncounted comments “…were from emails that generally oppose bear hunting, and we were looking for substantive comments on why something should or should not be done.”

The DEP says a little more than half of the available 11,000 bear hunting permits are still available. The hunt is scheduled to begin Dec. 7 and will last through Dec. 12.