The state Division of Fish & Wildlife yesterday extended its controversial bear hunt for four more days, saying the current six-day event did not reduce the population enough.
In a press release issued late in the afternoon, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said the harvest numbers fell short of goals for culling the number of bears in the state.
“With the four-day extension, we will reach a harvest number that will keep the bear population healthy and sustainable, while reducing the potential for conflicts with people,’’ Martin said.
The second phase of the hunt will begin a half-hour before sunrise on Wednesday, December 16, and conclude a half-hour after sunset on Saturday, December 19, according to the department.
The extension drew sharp criticism from opponents of the hunt. “They are doubling down on a failed policy,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This isn’t about bear management. It is just a trophy hunt.’’
The possibility of extending the hunt was raised in new regulations adopted by the DEP in November, which allowed for four more days should the hunt fall short of its goals.
Since the hunt began on Monday, December 7,. This is the eighth year of the seasonal event, with 2,497 bears taken all told, according to DEP information. Despite fierce opposition from animal-rights advocates and others, the state initiated the hunts in 2003 after the bear population exploded in northern New Jersey, increasing encounters with those who live in the area.
The hunts, however, have not reduced the number of encounters between bears and people reported to the DEP, according to critics. Aggressive bear encounters went up 55 percent in the past year despite the hunts, Tittel said.
The decision to extend the hunt was based on a review of data on bears that were tagged by Fish & Game officials over the past year and brought by hunters to check stations within the hunting zones.
The bear-hunting zones include all of Sussex, Warren, Morris, and Hunterdon and portions of Somerset, Bergen, and Mercer counties.
Based on tagged bears brought to check stations, the harvest rate for this year’s hunt was 18 percent, according to the division. The state’s bear policy allows the hunt to be extended if the kill rate falls below 20 percent.
Hunters who already have bagged a bear are not eligible to participate in the four-day extension. For hunters who do, there will be three mandatory bear-check stations open for the remaining period. They are located at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area in Newton, Pequest Wildlife Management Area in Oxford, and Green Pond Golf Course in Rockaway.