By Brett Stayton, Mid-Atlantic States Coordinator
With a twist of poetic justice, New Jersey’s contentious bear hunting season was extended earlier this month amidst turmoil, protests, and the Governor openly calling for its cancellation.
Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order in August urging the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to shut down black bear hunting on more than 700,000 acres of previously accessible public hunting grounds managed by the state, including Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). Sportsmen and women provide the majority of funding for acquiring and managing these public lands through the American System of Conservation Funding.
Due to the prohibition of black bear hunting on state public land, only 210 bears were harvested (on private and federal land) in 2018, down from 409 total bears last season. According to the DEP, about 40% of the bears harvested since 2010 were on public land that is now off limits to hunters, so it is no surprise that science-based harvest goals were not met in 2018. As a result, hunters were granted increased opportunities to pursue bears on private and federal land. The State Game Code states that the bear hunting season shall be extended by four days if the harvest rate is less than what is laid out in the official bear management plan based on the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) research and population models.
Following the prohibition of bear hunting on public lands earlier this fall, several bills were introduced and aimed at further restricting the hunt on private lands as well. The DFW is also reviewing non-lethal means of population control.
Preventing anti-bear hunting bills from advancing in the 2019 legislative session will be a major priority for the New Jersey Angling and Hunting Conservation Caucus, a group of bipartisan legislators with the interest of protecting and advancing the interests of the state’s sportsmen and women. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation will also continue to work with legislators and conservation partners in New Jersey during the 2019 legislative session to restore management authority of the state’s bear population to the DFW.
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?