Wednesday was a good day to be a bear.
A state appeals court that day halted – at least temporarily – the reinstatement of a New Jersey bear hunt. It had been set to start on Monday and run the entire week.
The judge, Lisa Rose, acted in response to a suit by three animal rights groups – the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Protection League and Friends of Animals.
Blocking the start of the hunt will give Rose time to weigh the merits of the groups’ appeal.
She said hunting opponents must submit briefs by 4 p.m. Friday and that the state must file its answer by 4 p.m. Monday.
As you tell, this could be a brief reprieve. The court could theoretically rule in favor of the hunt as early as Monday.
Hunt opponents seem to be relying on two main points.
The state says a hunt, which was not held last year, is needed because there are just too many bears in the nation’s most congested state. We have heard estimates of about 3,000 bears with a potential to rise to 4,000 in a few years. It is true that bears have no natural predator.
At the same time, calculating how many bears are in the woods and fields of New Jersey seems like an inexact science.
Opponents also say that the state Division of Fish and Wildlife moved to reinstate the hunt without a required public hearing or comment period.
The move to resume bear hunting in New Jersey seemed to pop up quickly.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced it in mid-November. The state had been getting pressure from Republican lawmakers in northwest New Jersey, which is prime “bear country.”
It is routine for observers to see political ramifications in everything, so what’s the political calculus here?
Hard to find.
As mentioned, most of those clamoring for a hunt are Republicans from conservative areas, so why would Murphy feel obligated to cater to them?
Some have speculated that supporting bear hunting may make Murphy seem more “mainstream,” just in case he runs for president in 2024.
This take seems way off base. Maybe I missed it, but I have never seen anyone ask presidential candidates their views on bear hunting. And besides, it’s hard to see Murphy, who barely won reelection in a very “blue” state, being a serious candidate for president in any event.
It’s possible that the governor truly feels there are too many bears in New Jersey.
Any such feelings aside, the assessment here is that the main issue for Rose, who used to be a judge in that “bear enclave” of Hudson County, will be if the state messed up by not having a public comment period.