Bear Hunt Thoughts

ROXBURY – I enjoy seeing bears when I jog or walk along the West Morris Greenway, a wooded, 7-mile trail connecting Horseshoe Lake Park with Chester.

Bears of varying size are occasionally seen lumbering one way or another on, or across, the trail. The animals seem totally oblivious to the hikers and joggers with whom they are sharing the woods.

That, of course, is about to change.

Gov. Phil Murphy has very reluctantly, it seems, agreed to reinstate bear hunting in New Jersey, probably as early as next month.

Bears were regularly hunted during Chris Christie’s years in office, but Murphy campaigned against the hunt. He immediately signed an executive order banning bear hunts on state land and last year, the hunt was ended entirely.

Support for bear hunting – both in the past and present – comes not only from hunters, but from those who see bears as a growing, and potentially dangerous, nuisance. Many of these people live in Morris, Sussex and Warren counties in northwest Jersey.

Views of bears are very much in the eye of the beholder.

It is one thing to enjoy seeing a bear while out for a morning jog, but quite another, to find a bear damaging your property or attacking your pets.

As we know, bears have no natural predator, so as their numbers increase, so does the likelihood of bear-human encounters.

The state DEP says bear sightings have increased more than 100 percent since last year and that “nuisance” and damage reports are up more than 200 percent.

State lawmakers representing Sussex County, all of whom are Republican, called for the bear hunt to resume earlier this fall, and have since thanked Murphy’s willingness to do so.

Officially, the state Fish and Game Council is set to endorse resuming hunting on state property on Tuesday.

This is not going to be popular with Murphy’s base.

Environmental groups, which tend to be anti-hunting, are condemning the governor for changing his mind on a hunt. Former state Senator Ray Lesniak, a foe of bear hunting, has even talked about filing suit.

In fairness, it is not wrong to change your mind. Actually, when the facts change, reversing course is the logical thing to do.

Those opposed to the hunt say the state and local governments have not done enough to make sure residents in “bear country” are using bear-resistant trash cans. That’s a fair point, but it is also true that not all bear complaints are linked to garbage disposal days.

Still, this is not an easy issue.

Broadly speaking, the state’s bear population is a tribute to environmental regulations dating back decades that have made our woods and open land more hospitable to wildlife of all kinds. Bears would not be proliferating if our streams and ponds were filled with chemicals.

Along those lines, it should not be forgotten that bears – and for that matter, all wildlife – must be considered part of a rural lifestyle. It always seemed to me a bit silly for people to move to Sussex County and then complain about too many bears.

The governor’s change of heart is based on the data he has seen from state wildlife experts. One is reminded that throughout the height of the pandemic, the governor spoke of following the science; he may be doing it again.

The thing to keep in mind is that we’re talking about 2022.

Just because it looks like there will be a bear hunt this year doesn’t mean there will be one next year.

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2 responses to “Bear Hunt Thoughts”

  1. They’re vegetarians leave them alone Plz we invaded they’re territory
    Please don’t hurt them
    Be happy we have them, they are beautiful please please leave them alone
    I’m a vegetarian shot me!!

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