Council authorizes emergency bear hunting in NJ; Murphy still won’t allow it

TRENTON – Citing an “imminent peril” if there is no black bear hunt, state wildlife regulators on Tuesday approved an emergency rule that would allow a hunt next month. But Governor Phil Murphy, who is expected to sign, remains opposed.

The reason there is no bear hunt on the calendar yet, despite the Fish and Game Council’s recommendation in March, is that DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette has not acted on the plan. bear management. Without approval, there can be no hunting.

Murphy said as a gubernatorial candidate four years ago that he opposed the bear hunt, but a bear hunt has been carried out – but not on state land – until this year under a management plan he inherited and which was approved while Governor Chris Christie was in office. . This plan expired earlier this year.

“Gov. Murphy and the Department of Environmental Protection are committed to implementing non-lethal strategies to manage the bear population in New Jersey, ”spokesman Alex Altman said.

The state budget includes $ 1.5 million for non-lethal approaches to managing the bear population, said Dave Golden, director of the state’s Fisheries and Wildlife Division.

“This was requested by DEP Commissioner, Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, and in line with the governor’s ideas on black bear management since taking office in that it is possible to manage a black bear population by the absence of hunting. , even a growing population of black bears, ”Golden said.

Unanimous, but not in disagreement?

The Fish and Game Council voted unanimously in favor of a state of emergency, and a number of members made it clear their preference for hunting throughout the meeting, noting the damage to crops and d other concerns. But board chairman Frank Virgilio said it was not an opposing vote.

“The Council is not at odds with the policy that the governor and the commissioner’s office are proposing,” said Virgilio. “It is the responsibility of the board, both under the Supreme Court decision and statutory requirements, that the board provide all of the tools in the toolbox to the commissioner and governor for decision making. This emergency rule is one more tool in the toolbox.

Council member Rick Lathrop said the state of emergency is necessary because of “concerns about the imminent danger to public health, safety and welfare.”

“No speculation is needed as to where the New Jersey bear population is going because we’ve been there before,” Lathrop said. “As we reduce the amount of hunting, we can see that the population is increasing. As we increase the number of hunts, the population decreases – still supporting the population but keeping it at a more manageable level. “

Lathrop said the bear population is estimated at 3,158 now and is expected to exceed 4,000 if there is no hunting. He said when hunts were suspended from 2005 to 2009, the bear population and the number of incidents reported by people doubled.

“Nonlethal is not so much the management of the bear population, but rather the management or control of human behavior,” he said. “And so, it’s useful but it’s really not enough because the bear population in New Jersey is expected to increase.”

Not the last word

Golden said the hunt still couldn’t take place unless LaTourette approves the overall management plan. It would also require Murphy’s approval to proceed with an emergency rule, as it would shorten the normal rule-making time frame, he said.

“The process could go pretty quickly for there to be a hunt in October,” Golden said. “However, there are a lot of things that would need to be put in place for this hunt to happen.”

Murphy’s office statement made it clear that these things will not fall into place.

Support for the state of emergency was common, but not unanimous when the audience spoke at the meeting.

“It has been proven time and time again that there is no other cost effective and viable option than managing bear hunting in New Jersey,” said Mike Bush of United Bowhunters of New Jersey. “Taxpayers can’t afford it. We already have the highest taxes in the country. We do this for free and we also keep the bear population at a healthy carrying capacity. “

“Personally, I think it’s better to let the hunters take care of the bear management, rather than spending money that you’re just going to throw down the drain. It just doesn’t make sense, ”said Nicole Member of Stanhope.

“While it’s nice that Governor Murphy gives you $ 1.5 million to look into non-lethal forms, it seems that roughly that $ 1.5 million is used for public education and not to control the black bear population, which will simply continue to grow if no hunting is approved, ”said Lou Martinez of

Millburn resident Janet Piszar, founder of Coalition for Animals, said opposition to Murphy’s moratorium on bear hunting was “once again seen and very reminiscent of Jon Corzine’s administration.”

“More bears don’t equal more aggressive or more dangerous bears, and this is proven in the history of bear management in New Jersey,” Piszar said.

How the money will be spent

DEP Assistance uses a number of non-lethal bear management strategies to reduce the number of human interactions with bears and improves and expands these methods with the $ 1.5 million spent in DEP’s FY22 budget.

Golden said the $ 1.5 million added to the budget would go towards awareness and education, hiring 11 new employees, including more conservation officers, and purchasing equipment such as handling immobilized bears. Strategies will include public education, on-the-ground response to incidents, expanded police training, research programs, support to counties and local governments on topics such as waste management and a focus on science and policy.

Not all council members were impressed with the expenses, with one member noting that they were lower than the government of the day. Christie Whitman set similar goals over 20 years ago.

“It seems like every time we get a commissioner or governor who doesn’t like bear hunting, they throw a lot of money at you,” board member Ed Kertz said. “Now that’s $ 1.5 million. What will happen after this money is spent. You’re going to have all these employees that you’re going to have to pay now, and where is that money going to come from? “

Virgilio noted that Murphy had focused on non-lethal bear management since he was a candidate and said the board would “adopt” him. He noted that the plan described by Golden extended to fiscal year 2023.

“They felt it was time to put more pressure on non-lethal controls, and they are putting their money where their mouth is,” Virgilio said. “They didn’t just make the statement and left it there. They support him with money.

Michael Symons is the State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at [email protected].

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