By Brett Stayton, Mid-Atlantic States Coordinator
Several members of the bipartisan and bicameral New Jersey Angling and Hunting Conservation Caucus have spoken out against an executive order signed by Governor Phil Murphy on August 20. The order seeks to prohibit black bear hunting on all land under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Eliminating the Garden State’s bear hunt was part of Gov. Murphy’s campaign platform, but the Governor’s office does not have authority to entirely ban bear hunting without action from the state legislature or the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife (DFW).
New Jersey has one of the densest black bear populations in North America with an estimated 3,500 bears roaming the northern part of the state. According to DFW officials, halting the bear hunt could cause the population to double in size by 2022, which would result in increased human-bear conflicts.
To limit the hunt to the fullest extent of his executive authority, the Governor called on the DEP Commissioner to ban bear hunting on more than 700,000 acres of previously accessible public hunting grounds. Should this action be taken, bear hunting will still be permissible on about 1 million acres of private, county and municipal lands; however, according to the DEP, about 40 percent of the bears harvested in the state since 2010 were on public land that would now be off limits. Further complicating this issue, bear hunting would now be illegal on state Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). These WMAs are paid for by New Jersey’s sportsmen and women through the “user-pays, public-benefits” American System of Conservation Funding, which has generated more than $632 million for fish and wildlife conservation in the state.
Senator Steve Oroho, a Co-Chair of the New Jersey Angling and Hunting Conservation Caucus, stated that, “the Governor needs to put aside politics and personal feelings about hunting and look at the bigger picture. We don’t want to go back to not managing the bear population properly.”
Caucus Co-Chair Assemblyman Parker Space said that the executive order is a “self-serving attempt to placate anti-hunting extremists while increasing the likelihood that people have dangerous encounters with bears.” He also stated that, “hunting has effectively controlled the bear population since 2010. Nuisance and damage were cut in half during that time.”
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?