New Jersey's policies for hunting and managing black bears should be based on wildlife science determined by the experts at the Fish and Game Council -- and not by politicians in Trenton -- a state lawmaker said Monday.
Several lawmakers are pushing to remove black bears from the list of game species in New Jersey. At least two bills entered into consideration in both the Senate and Assembly would require that black bears be protected in the same manner as other animals indigenous to the state.
One of them, authored by Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Maywood was forwarded by an Assembly committee last week. The committee also OK'd a resolution keeping the legal hunting season at six days.
"The state's current policy dictating multiple hunting seasons to control the black bear population is inhumane," Eustace said. "For 30 years, New Jersey went without hunting black bear as a control method and with the alternative methods we can do it again."
Another bill, sponsored by New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak and dubbed "Pedals' Law," would ban black bear hunting in the state for five years. The Senate Economic Growth committee voted advanced the measure on Monday by a 3-2 vote.
"Bear hunts are unnecessary and counterproductive," Lesniak said. "Let's put an end to them." His campaign includes an online petition to end bear hunts.
Sen. Steven Oroho (R-24) sees things differently.
“Hunting is an important part of the comprehensive set of bear management tools that the state employs to maintain a healthy bear population and minimize nuisance interactions with people and property,” Oroho said. “Banning bear hunting in New Jersey will only lead to an increase in nuisance bear incidents around our homes and families.”
According to New Jersey’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy, the Fish and Game Council makes decisions on whether or not to hold a hunting season, season lengths, bag limits and the manner of take after considering scientific data presented to it by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).
Regarding non-lethal alternatives, the council noted that “recent studies in New Jersey as well as other states conclude that aversive conditioning has a limited short-term effect on reducing the negative behavior of nuisance bears.”
In response to the effort to legislatively mandate the use of so-called “bear-proof” garbage cans, Oroho further noted that DFW law enforcement staffers found 89% of more than 4,600 residential properties in incident areas inspected were in compliance with black bear garbage management guidelines.
“Many people that live in areas with large bear populations are already using expensive ‘bear-proof’ garbage cans, and they’re still reporting nuisance interactions at high levels,” added Oroho. “Let’s not forget that bears have been sighted in every single county in New Jersey.
"The entirety of the Garden State is bear country," he said. "Are we going to force everyone in the state to use these expensive garbage cans?
“Whenever politicians try to interfere with science, we end up with bad public policy,” added Oroho. “Let’s leave New Jersey’s bear management policy to the wildlife conservation experts who best understand the issue and are not governed by politics.”
Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Wayne, who voted against Eustace's Assembly bills, said New Jersey's bear population shouldn't grow unchecked.
“These are animals that have the potential to harm and kill humans,” Rumana said. “If we find a way to have birth control or population control I’d be all ears for that as opposed to hunting.
“But right now, that is the one thing we can do to tamp down the population growth.”