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NJ bear hunt returns as human interactions rise statewide

<h6>Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0</h6>
Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0

On Nov. 15, the New Jersey Fish and Game Council voted unanimously to reinstate a black bear hunt. The controversial practice was last permitted in New Jersey in 2020, and aims to reduce “bear damage and nuisance” incidents by curbing the animal’s population. 

The approved emergency actions call for a regulated hunting season, which will last six days. If 20 percent or less of the state’s estimated population is not killed in that window, the hunting period may be extended.  

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Historically opposed to bear hunting, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order outlawing the practice on state property just months after taking office in 2018. The Fish and Game Council’s Nov. 15 decision, however, signals a change in his perspective. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) website, the recent emergency action was taken “due to increasing public safety concerns associated with the growing bear population.”

“While I committed to ending the bear hunt, the data demands that we act now to prevent tragic bear-human interactions,” Gov. Murphy said in an interview with The New York Times earlier this month. 

According to the DEP, the office has received 1,971 reports of bear activity this year (sightings, damage, and nuisance) — a 204 percent increase from last year. Bear interactions with humans have become increasingly disruptive in New Jersey, as the incidence of damage and nuisance caused by bears increased by 237 percent compared to 2021. This year, 62 bears were listed as exhibiting “aggressive” behavior. 

433 bears have been spotted in the last 10 months in the state, according to the DEP, including activity in Mercer County, which includes Princeton. 

On Aug. 11, a black bear was sighted in Princeton near Herrontown Woods, Tyson Lane, Poe Road, Longview Drive, Hartley Avenue, and Riverside School. A TigerAlert was shared with the University community on Aug. 12 in response to the sighting, stating that there had been several local black bear encounters that week.

The DEP has received a total of 22 reports of bear activity in Mercer County this year.

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Environmentalists and animal welfare activists in the state have pushed back on Gov. Murphy’s decision, with some threatening legal action. The Animal Protection League of New Jersey held a series of protests over the weekend in opposition to the recently reinstated hunt.

In a statement to The Daily Princetonian, the Princeton Conservation Society (PCS) took a less decisive stance, noting the “complex situation.” 

“[C]ompletely sound moral objections could be made towards the killing of bears,” the society wrote. “However, in this specific instance, the dangers that have been manifesting themselves around us are clear and should be mitigated.”

Bailey White ’24 — a PCS member majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology — echoed that when the wellbeing of citizens and animals are at odds, the state is in a difficult position. 

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“I think wildlife management has a lot of layers to it, a lot of competing interests,” White told the ‘Prince.’ “I have a lot of conflicted feelings about it.”

“As hard as we can try to separate […] human society from nature, it’s never going to fully happen. We are a part of the systems around us, and so we have to expect that we’ll see the fox, we’ll see deer, we’ll see bears, and even if that’s uncomfortable with us, that’s part of what living in this area is,” White said.

The DEP characterizes black bears as “an integral part of the state’s natural heritage and a vital component of healthy ecosystems” on their website. The current New Jersey bear population is estimated at 3,000 and is expected to grow by 30 percent within the next two years. 

White noted that the bear hunt will likely result in 600 bears killed in the state, which would have “significant ramifications” for the entire ecosystem. As apex predators, bears do a lot to manage prey  populations, White added. “And so I could potentially see their prey species [...] expand[ing] in ways that we haven’t really calculated for yet,” she said. 

The bear hunt will begin on Dec. 5 and last through Dec. 10.

Simone Kirkevold is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’ 

Tess Weinreich is an Assistant News Editor and features contributor for the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

Correction: A previous version of this story included a subheading stating that the recently reinstated bear hunt was the result of a 2018 executive order from Gov. Murphy. This order actually outlawed bear hunting on state property, and the recent decision on the part of the NJ Fish and Game council marked a reversal of this action. The ‘Prince’ regrets this error.

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