Move Afoot to Ban Bear Hunting in New Jersey

Tom Johnson | October 18, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Hunting opponents argue it increases rather than reduces human-animal conflicts, call instead for better bear management

"Pedals," the bipedal bear
With the latest bear-hunting season ending with 562 animals killed, lawmakers are reviving efforts to ban future hunts in New Jersey.

For the second time in less than a week, a legislative panel yesterday voted out a bill that would prevent the hunting of bears, a policy endorsed by three former governors before this administration.

But proponents of the bill concede it is unlikely that any such measure will be signed by Gov. Chris Christie, even if it advances that far in the current session. Instead, they hope to lay the groundwork to have it quickly enacted by the next governor.

“One more year of slaughter,’’ remarked Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, a backer of the bill, which has been call “Pedals Law.’’ The name refers to an upright bear who often walked on his rear legs that was apparently killed during the just-concluded bow and arrow hunting season, infuriating animal rights advocates.

“Pedals looked and acted like a human being,’’ said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who introduced the bill (S-2702) only last week. The bill, narrowly approved in a 3-2 vote by the Senate Economic Growth Committee, would prohibit bear hunting for five years while new management practices for minimizing conflicts with people are developed.

The state reinstituted a bear hunting season in 2010 after confrontations between the animals, thought to number more than 3,000 in New Jersey, and humans, escalated. By reducing the populations, wildlife officials said they could limit conflicts with people throughout the state.

But Lesniak said reducing bear population through hunting has “absolutely no impact’’ on curbing conflicts with humans. Instead, the opposite happens, because of the baiting of bears by hunters to lure the animals nearer to them.

“By the way, real hunters don’t need bait to hunt,’’ he said. “That’s just shooting fish in a barrel.’’

The legislation would require the use of bear-resistant containers to prevent the animals from foraging for food in garbage bins in bear habitat and other bear management practices. It also would prohibit bait-hunting for deer.

The effort to ban hunting of bears is hugely popular in the state. Lesniak noted he had gathered petitions with more 10,000 signatures to prohibit bear hunting. In 2015, when the state Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife instituted the bow hunting season, more than 92 percent of the public opposed the move, according to Angie Metler, executive director of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.

Sen. Steven Oroho (R-Sussex) opposed the bill, saying the animals have caused a lot of crop damage in his district and encounters with humans remains a serious problem.

Meanwhile, the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee on Thursday voted a bill (A-3527) that would remove bears from the list of game species, a step that would ban their hunting.

Both bills have drawn opposition from the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, which called the legislation “a wakeup call to hunters, trappers and fishermen’’ that they could lose their rights to hunt, trap and fish in the state.

The alliance called the bills a serious threat to the management of all wildlife in New Jersey.