New Jersey’s bear hunt continues amid controversy, lawsuits

Black bears will be fair game for hunters in designated areas of New Jersey through Saturday. (Toby Talbot/AP Photo)

Black bears will be fair game for hunters in designated areas of New Jersey through Saturday. (Toby Talbot/AP Photo)

The second half of New Jersey’s 2018 bear hunt begins Monday, as two lawsuits aiming to change how the state manages its black bear population proceed.

Hunters are able to use firearms to shoot bears in designated areas through Saturday.

One change this year was the ban on bear hunting on state land, something Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy put in place with an August executive order. (Murphy promised during his campaign to end the bear hunt entirely, but his executive order fell short of that.)

In response to the order, hunting groups sued Murphy, claiming it was a political stunt to block bear hunters from state lands.

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“There’s not a shred of science anywhere that backs ending this bear hunt on state lands,” said Cody McLaughlin, spokesman for the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, a plaintiff in the suit. “This is just paying back a political promise to some deep-pocketed supporters.”

McLaughlin said New Jersey has the highest density of black bears in the country and that the hunt was a conservation effort meant to reduce dangerous interactions with humans. “You can’t manage it without a lethal option,” he said.

So far the courts have kept Murphy’s ban in place, but McLaughlin said his group plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The hunters lawsuit is unfolding as environmental groups are arguing a separate legal challenge that aims to end the bear hunt entirely.

The Animal Protection League of New Jersey filed a lawsuit three years ago but just had oral arguments in the case earlier this month, according to legal affairs director Doris Lin. The appellate court that heard the case has not yet issued an opinion.

She said the argument that the bear hunt promotes conservation is disingenuous.

“The New Jersey bear hunt is a recreational hunt. It is a trophy hunt,” Lin said. “The Division of Fish and Wildlife says that most hunters will have the bears professionally taxidermied.”

Lin said the state has plenty of non-lethal options to reduce the danger of bears, such as bear-resistant garbage cans made of metal.

Earlier this month, the Department of Environmental Protection rolled out a radio and social media ad campaign urging residents not to feed black bears.

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