The Record: Managing bears

Editorial Board, The Record 

THE BEAR hunt is not only on again, it's increasing by season and scope.

On Monday, the Christie administration formally adopted New Jersey's most robust black bear "management" plan yet, which will broaden the hunting area and potentially extend the annual hunt by four days if the state's quota for kills is not met.

In addition, reports Staff Writer James M. O'Neill, the new policy adds a six-day bear hunt in October 2016 for bow hunters. Next year, hunters can increase their bear kills to two per person, provided the first bear is taken in the new October hunt and the second in the regular December hunt.

We question the wisdom of extending the bear hunt in New Jersey, when the state has done precious little in the way of enforcing strict garbage security among homeowners in bear country or preventing people from feeding the bears outright. As The Record reported Tuesday, the state's black bear population grew significantly since the 1980s as the animals migrated from Pennsylvania and New York, in part because they found an easy food source in human garbage.

This year's black bear hunt, which begins Dec. 7, has been preceded by a spike in reports this fall of bears acting aggressively toward hikers in some state parks. The state Department of Environmental Protection shut two of the most popular hiking areas in this region for several weeks in October, including Ramapo Mountain State Forest, which runs along the Bergen-Passaic County border, and Bergen County's Ramapo Valley Reservation in Mahwah.

The DEP reopened the parks after wildlife officials captured and killed five bears that they believe had been the ones boldly approaching hikers. Wildlife biologists determined that the bears had become habituated to people, perhaps because visitors or nearby homeowners had been feeding them.

Meanwhile, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin says that "hunting is an important tool in maintaining an ecological balance with our black bear population and is necessary to reduce potential for conflicts between bears and people." Martin also says the state's bear policy "continues to stress the importance of research and public education."

What the DEP doesn't stress as often is that black bears are generally afraid of people and will stay clear of them. Certainly, we recognize that hikers and homeowners in the more bear-friendly regions should be cautious and sensible about how they interact with bears. Yet we question, once more, whether the so-called yearly hunt is actually an effective tool, or whether it really targets "nuisance bears."

It seems that for at least as long as Chris Christie is governor, the bear hunt in New Jersey will become more extensive, providing more landscape and greater hunting windows to bag black bears, including cubs. Whether this policy will result in a workable, long-term solution for the problem remains to be seen.