Governor Murphy announces strategy to protect New Jersey communities and contain wildlife
TRENTON – To protect public safety and support a healthy wildlife population, Governor Phil Murphy announced that the New Jersey Fish and Game Council will discuss approving the New Jersey’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy. State (CBBMP) and will consider changes to the game code at its next meeting on Tuesday, November 15. To reduce the black bear population and dangerous bear-human interactions, the amendments include measures to reintroduce a regulated black bear hunt beginning in December. The Fish and Game Council will also consider additional limitations to a regulated hunt, including bans on taking cubs.
“Since the beginning of my administration, I have promised to base every difficult decision on the latest science and evidence in order to protect our communities,” said Governor Murphy. “From the data we’ve analyzed and the stories we’ve heard from families across the state, it’s clear that New Jersey’s black bear population is increasing significantly and that non-lethal management strategies bears alone are not enough to mitigate this trend. Every New Jerseyer deserves to live in communities where their children, family and property are protected from all harm, and even though I am committed to ending to bear hunting, the data demands that we act now to prevent tragic bear-human interactions.We must responsibly adapt to the population with carefully regulated and stringent bear population management strategies to ensure our communities and families are protected from the growing population of black bears.
“Black bears are part of New Jersey’s natural heritage, and a sustainable population contributes to the health of our broader ecosystem,” said Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette. “The overpopulation and dispersal of bears into areas with less favorable natural habitat is a concern for public safety as well as the overall health and sustainability of the species. Given the black bear population and dispersal circumstances affecting New Jersey, a regulated hunt with humane limits is necessary and appropriate.
“As chairman of the Fish and Game Council, I share Governor Murphy’s concerns for protecting public safety while supporting a healthy black bear population in New Jersey,” said New Jersey Fish and Game Council President Frank Virgilio. “Furthermore, we have an obligation to conduct bear hunting in New Jersey in an ethical and responsible manner. The board’s job is to consider credible black bear management as well as the non-hunting public and their acceptance of our rules.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates that the black bear population in Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties – where the state’s population is centered – has increased, with estimates close to 3,000 black bears. Meanwhile, reported incidents with black bears, including dangerous human-bear interactions, have also increased. Incidents reported to DEP from January to October this year increased by 237% compared to the same period in 2021. The most concerning of these incidents include: 62 aggressive human encounters, 1 human attack, 12 dog attacks, 12 home entries, 15 home entry attempts, 84 cases of property damage exceeding $1,000, and 52 attacks on protected livestock.
The black bear population is expected to reach over 4,000 bears in the next two years. In the absence of population control measures, the rate of population growth will worsen in future years as more female bears breed, with population reduction being the only scientifically valid method to limit uncontrolled growth and dispersal.
Dense bear populations can potentially lead to inadequate natural food sources for animals and territory for young bucks. This causes bears to disperse further into areas where they may come into conflict with humans and increases the risk of bears seeking out food sources such as garbage, pet food left outside, seeds bird feeders, agricultural crops, poultry and livestock.
The actions being considered would reinstate a December 5-10 bear hunting season for 2022, which would run concurrently with the six-day deer gun season. If the harvest target of 20% of the population is not reached, the season will be extended until the following week, from December 14 to 17. Bear hunting will be permitted on public and private lands in designated bear hunting areas.
There will be an opportunity for the public to comment on the CBBMP and Game Code amendments at the Fish and Game Council meeting on Tuesday. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street.
Hunting was suspended on state lands in 2018 to provide an opportunity to assess the feasibility of exclusively using non-lethal measures to maintain the population in a manner that protects public safety. With the full black bear management plan expiring in 2021, no bear hunts have taken place on New Jersey land since 2020.
At its Nov. 15 meeting, after working closely with the DEP to develop mutually agreeable parameters, the Fish and Game Council will consider implementing strict bans on the taking of Cubs under 75 pounds, taking adults traveling in family packs with cubs under 75 pounds, and baiting restrictions. If the Fish and Game Council approves the filing, Commissioner LaTourette will sign the comprehensive black bear management plan to evidence DEP’s agreement with allowing hunting under the emergency proposal. The DEP will also launch a broader wildlife management and public safety initiative, which – in addition to a more humane black bear hunt – will include a waste management pilot project to advance non-lethal strategies, expansion of local government planning for deer population control, and protection of alien species.