Controversial Bear Hunting Returns to New Jersey

The aim is to cut 20% of the population in December.

black bear in the woods

Troy Harrison / Getty Images

Bear hunting is legal again in New Jersey.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order this week, announcing that trapping and hunting black bears will be allowed in December. The New Jersey Fish and Game Council voted to approve the return of the controversial practice, saying it was necessary to control the bear population and reduce the chance of dangerous encounters with people.

The first hunt is scheduled for Dec. 5-10 on any state, private, municipal, county, or federal land that is open to hunting and for which a hunter has permission. If the goal to cut the population by 20% isn’t achieved, then the season will be extended through Dec. 14-17.

“The facts on the ground have shown that we cannot rely on nonlethal methods alone to protect New Jersey residents from a growing black bear population,” Murphy said in a statement. “Today’s actions will facilitate the reinstatement of a regulated black bear hunt this year to help limit dangerous interactions between people and bears to protect public safety.”

According to the state, the hunting reinstatement is due to increasing public safety concerns over an increasing bear population. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection reported a 237% increase in reports about bear damage and bear nuisance, received between Jan. 1, 2022, and Oct. 21, 2022, compared to the same period in 2021.

However, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) points out that these statistics include reports such as a bear rummaging in a trash can, spotting an injured bear, or just any reported bear sighting in general.

The state’s records show that between January and October this year, bear attacks on humans increased by one, attacks on domestic dogs increased by five, and the number of bears entering vehicles increased by four compared to the same time period last year.

“This proposal to kill 20% of New Jersey’s treasured black bears is nothing more than a state-sanctioned slaughter catering to the less than 1% of individuals who want to trophy hunt bears. It is unacceptable in any form,” Elissa Frank, New Jersey state director for the HSUS, said in a statement.

“Bears are highly intelligent, family-oriented and one of New Jersey’s most beloved and iconic species. The most effective way to stop bear conflicts is to provide people with bear-resistant trash cans and educate them about the importance of taking commonsense precautions to avoid attracting bears, like taking down bird feeders and keeping pet and livestock food unavailable—not instituting a futile trophy hunt.”

Path to Permanent Change

The state’s new Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy was enacted through an emergency ruling, so they are only valid for 60 days. To make permanent changes, the offices of the governor and the fish and game council will publish a proposal on Dec. 19.

That kicks off a 30-day period where people can submit written comments and a public hearing will be scheduled in January for in-person comments. Comments can be submitted online after Dec. 19.

Former State Senator Raymond Lesniak has spoken out against the policy change and said he will sue to stop the hunt. He said this hearkens back to recent years "when bear hunting did nothing to protect the public but gave hunters an opportunity to hang a bear trophy in their dens."

Friends of Animals, a nonprofit animal rights global advocacy organization, says that science doesn't support hunting as a solution for bear activity and encounters.

“In New Jersey, reports showed that bear activity increased in 2011 and 2014 when the state allowed bear hunting," said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. "And incidences of bears getting into garbage and bird feeders essentially stayed the same when bears were allowed to be hunted.”

Instead, animal rights experts say people need to learn how to coexist safely with wildlife.

“In order to reduce nuisance cases with bears, we need a real management plan that will deal with educating the public on how to live with bears and bear-proofing their property,” Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey Director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Seeing bears in the woods does not provide justification for hunting them.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Executive Order No.310." New Jersey Government.

  2. "Bear Hunting Season Information." New Jersey Fish and Wildlife.

  3. "Murphy Administration Takes Actions to Facilitate the Reinstatement of a Regulated Black Bear Hunt This Year to Protect the Safety of Residents." New Jersey Government.

  4. "Breaking: New Jersey to Trophy Hunt Black Bears." The Humane Society International.

  5. "Bear Activity Report." New Jersey Fish and Wildlife.

  6. "Gov. Murphy Betrays New Jersey Black Bears." Friends of Animals.