Next month, New Jersey will hold its first black bear hunt in five years. The state's Department of Environmental Protection says the black bear population in northern New Jersey is about 3,500 — and decade ago, that number was under 1,000. DEP Spokesman Larry Ragonese said New Jersey received more than 3,000 bear complaints last year, ranging from minor nuisance calls to aggressive behavior.
"We are seeing many more bear-human interactions, troubling situations of bears breaking into homes, attacking livestock, and bears disrupting things," he said. The hunt, he said, is part of a larger, comprehensive plan that includes garbage management, research, and public education.
But others say the hunt isn't needed to solve the state's problem. Dorin Lin, with the Bear Education and Resource Group, said it's cruel, dangerous to humans, and ultimately, ineffective. "Information from all over North America shows that hunting does not reduce bear complaints," she said. "Actually, the only thing that does reduce bear complaints is non-lethal management." Lin recommends greater enforcement of what she calls common-sense measures, like using bear-proof garbage containers, and hanging bird feeders out of the reach of bears.
Doctor Edward Tavvs, from Rutgers University, doesn't question that the bear population in New Jersey is on the rise — but he does dispute the science behind the data collection of bear complaints and the state's justification for the hunt. He said many of the complaints were duplicated in the recent count, skewing the results.
Tavvs conducted his own research into the issue, and said national studies have shown that non-lethal measures are more effective — and that's proven true in New Jersey. "We're doing very well in New Jersey, we are a model state," he said. He recommends continued garbage control, and greater enforcement of it.
Ragonese defended the state's methods of monitoring and tracking complaints and disputed Tavv's claim that hundreds of complaints were duplicated. Out of last year's 3,000 complaints, he said, 255 were serious incidents, including reports of bears attacking pets and attempted home entry.
New Jersey's six-day bear hunt begins on December 6 and runs through December 11.