The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a State Report on the Implementation of the 2015 Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy. The report describes the policy as “effective and essential” for maintaining the black bear populations of New Jersey. They’re claiming that if we don’t continue the hunt, the bear population will double in five years. The Sierra Club believes that this report is erroneous because the current bear management plan does not sustainable manage populations in New Jersey. We also believe that the hunt is a poor excuse for an actual bear management plan because unless it deals with protection of habitats, garbage, and educating people in bear country, the hunt is meaningless. Additionally, it will put people and property in harm’s way.

“The DEP is playing games with the facts to keep the hunt going and try to undercut incoming Governor Murphy. They know that the Murphy Administration is opposed to the hunt, so they came out with this report to try and tie their hands when it comes to the unneeded bear hunt. Their claim that the bear population will double in five years without a hunt is erroneous and not based on real science. They don’t even have an accurate count of the current bear population. They have overharvested the population while not dealing with the underlying problems. There is no real bear management in New Jersey since Governor Christie,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We look forward to the Murphy Administration putting a moratorium on the bear hunt until a scientific and effective management plan can be put in place. We need to implement a non-lethal management plan like we’ve had in the past that have successfully managed the bear populations in New Jersey. If we just continued hunting, we wouldn’t have any left.”

According to new data, black bear sightings in New Jersey fell by nearly two-thirds in 2017. These are the lowest levels seen since the early 1980’s, when the species began to rebound. The 2017 black bear hunt has killed 409 bears since October. In 2016, the NJDEP extended the area and time period of the hunt. When the hunt began in 2010, the DEP said there were about 3,500 bears. Last year’s hunt played games with the tagging system and many of the bears killed were cubs and sows. Since the hunt began in 2010, 3,426 bears have been killed.

“The number of nuisance bears has collapsed in the past year. We believe this is because of overhunting and don’t believe the DEP is adequately monitoring the population. They say there are 2,500 bears currently but we don’t trust that data. Since 2010, 3,426 bears have been killed. We are very concerned that there may not be any more bears left after this hunt. Despite this report claiming that the hunt is properly regulating black bear numbers, the evidence shows otherwise,” said Jeff Tittel. “The massive drop in black bear sightings show that our hunt is not sustainable, especially with taking of sows and cubs. We challenged their methodology when they started the hunt, and this year shows how wrong their tagging methods are. The bear population has been so depleted that there aren’t many left to hunt. We may go back to the days where there’s only 50 bears left in the state.

Instead of more hunting, we need a real management plan, one that includes strong education and uses warning signs in the region, education materials at trail heads, enforcing not feeding bears, and garbage management. There needs to be warning signs in bear country with post at all trail heads with Do’s and Don’ts in bear country. We also need to teach people how to bear-proof their property, including the importance of having no garbage at night and bear proof containers. These will do a lot more in managing the bear population than having an unnecessary hunt.

“What we need from the Murphy Administration is not just a moratorium, but a comprehensive bear management plan that includes non-lethal techniques and education. We need programs that teach people about bears. These programs would help educate people on not only how to avoid running into bears in their natural habitat but what to do if it happens. They would also include management of garbage and other food sources that would keep bears out of people’s property. We need to require bear proof garbage containers and strictly enforce a prohibition on the feeding of bears so tragedies like this can be avoided.  We also need to have signs warning people they are in bear country and have educational materials listed at all trail heads,” said Jeff Tittel. “We used to use non-lethal tactics like Bear Aversion Therapy to make bears afraid of people by using pepper spray and airhorns. That program has been eliminated and replaced with more arbitrary hunting.”

Over a decade ago, we were spending over $2.5 million a year on bear education and now we are spending a tenth of that. Most of the money the state has spent has been on hunting, not a real management plan.  The state has been using hunting instead of a management plan, but in most of the hunts they end of killing the more docile bears that live in the woods.  The aggressive bears tend to be living closer to homes and developed areas.  When they hunt they miss most of the aggressive bears. We need to protect bear habitat by eliminating development in these areas.

“The black bear is a symbol that we still have wild places left in the state and that we haven’t completely given over to sprawl. Instead of having a real bear management plan with non-lethal options and education, Christie keeps expanding on his failed plan. This is merely a trophy hunt without any real management. The New Jersey Sierra Club agrees with Phil Murphy and his plan to put a moratorium on the hunt. Until we can come up with a real management plan, this expanded hunt is too dangerous. We may not have any bears left in New Jersey if we keep killing them without real management,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Murphy is going to change how we manage bear and other species. This report is an attempt to stop him because they’re really the Division of Fish and Hunt Game.”