Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin today approved a Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy, a common sense mix of bear management tools that would include the state's first black bear hunt since 2005 to deal with an overpopulation of bears and problems they are causing, especially in northern parts of the State.
The policy also includes public education, research, bear habitat analysis and protection, non-lethal bear management techniques and enhanced efforts to keep human food sources, especially household trash, away from bears to limit troubling bear-human encounters.
"It is clear that a historical rise in public complaints regarding black bears is correlated with the growing bear population. This public safety issue cannot be ignored,'' said Commissioner Martin, who approved the new policy after it was reviewed and unanimously recommended by the State Fish and Game Council.
"This science- and fact-based policy recognizes that hunting is an important bear management tool in combination with non-lethal controls of problem bears, public education on coexisting with bears and enforcement of laws to reduce conflicts between bears and people. Although I respect that some New Jersey residents are opposed to hunting bears, hunting is the only proven and most cost-effective method of wildlife population control and it is utilized successfully by other states with viable bear populations,'' said Commissioner Martin.
The bear population in northwestern New Jersey has grown from 500 bears in 1992 to more than 3,400 bears today, and bears have now been encountered in all 21 New Jersey counties. Although bear-related complaints vary from year to year due to environmental factors, serious bear incidents have increased commensurate with the black bear population, up by 96 percent from 2006 through 2009, according to DEP wildlife officials. There have been several encounters with aggressive black bears in recent weeks, they noted.
Despite response to problem bears by DEP personnel and trained local police officers, bear complaints continue to rise. There were 1,261 black bear incidents, including 76 Category One aggressive incidents, reported to the DEP between Jan.1 and June 20. So far this year, 13 aggressive black bears have been euthanized, compared to 8 bears during the same period in 2009, according to the Division of Fish and Wildlife. Many other aggressive bears have not been caught.
A black bear hunt would take place in December, concurrent with the six-day firearm deer hunting season, with specific rules to be set up by the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife in coming months. It would be held in portions of a 1,000 square-mile area north of Route 80 in Morris, Sussex, Warren and Passaic counties.
While more than 9,000 comments were received by the state Fish and Game Council regarding the new policy, including many that opposed hunting, no scientifically proven alternative was presented, said Commissioner Martin.
"This is a truly comprehensive new black bear policy that takes advantage of the most current management tools available to us and will properly guide us in managing this most valued wildlife resource,'' said Commissioner Martin.
Since the 1980s, New Jersey's black bear population has been increasing and expanding southward and eastward from forested areas of northwestern New Jersey. There have been increased sightings of bears this year in many suburban towns and urban areas, where black bears have not been previously been encountered.
The Fish and Game Council, in its July 13 decision in favor of the new policy, cited increasing damage to personal property and threats to public safety as key reasons for its vote. Home entries and attempted home entries by black bears have increased significantly since the late 1990s and remain unacceptably high despite intensive efforts to eliminate problem bears and despite intensive education efforts, the Council stated.
"The Council is not willing to continually subject the citizens of New Jersey to this level of risk to public safety and property damage from black bears, and so must take the responsible action of reducing the bear population,'' the Council stated in its recommendation to Commissioner Martin.
To review the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/bearpolicy10.htm
For tips on proper garbage management and coexisting with bears, visit www.njfishandwildlife.com/bearfacts_avoid.htm