Sightings of black bears are down 21 percent this year, following 2011’s reduction in bear sightings of 34 percent. Once estimated at a population of about 3,500, state officials now say the population has been reduced to 2,500 to 2,800.
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, the reduction in black bears is partly due to its annual bear hunt, which began Monday. This year, state officials have already issued 7,000 bear-hunt licenses.
Black bears have been sighted in all 21 New Jersey counties, but they are primarily found in a 1,000-square-mile area north of Route 78 and west of Route 287. In 2012, 287 bears were killed in the hunt and state officials expect a similar number this year.
The hunt has been controversial, and environmental groups went to court to challenge it in 2011, but lost. Since then, the state DEP said that not only were the number of bear sightings down, but damage and nuisance complaints are down 20 percent and dangerous bear incidents are down 3 percent.
The hunt, which takes place in specific zones of Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren counties, ends this Saturday.