The BEAR Group protests New Jersey’s upcoming bear hunting

By Eleni Antipas
November 21, 2010

Members of the BEAR Group joined together to protest the bear hunt taking place this December. The bear hunt has seen a resurgence at the hands of Gov. Christie after complaints from New Jersey residents.

The BEAR Group, formed in the 1970s when New Jersey’s bear population was nearly exhausted by trophy hunting, gathered in Mendham, NJ, on Saturday, Nov. 20, to protest the upcoming bear hunt.

Protesters stood on Main Street holding signs and chanting, “Fish and game lie, bears are gonna die.” A few people drove by shouting “kill all the bears.” However, several drivers honked their horns in support of the protest.

“Hunting is murder, plain and simple,” Deborah Kowalski, member of For the Animals Sanctuary, said.

This December, New Jersey will have its first bear hunt in five years. Governor Christie agreed to allow the hunt during his campaign due to an increase in the number of bear complaints from New Jersey residents.

However, the BEAR Group believes this is based on faulty data.

Dr. Edward Tavss,  professor of chemistry at Rutgers University,  reviewed the data provided by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that supports a bear hunt due to what they call “a spike in bear complaints.”

Tavss found that the DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife used the same formula for collecting data from 1995 to 2007 but a different formula was used in 2008 and 2009. Tavss’ research showed that the change in the method for data collection was the reason the DEP’s study resulted in an increase in complaints.

“You have to compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges. When you do the comparison of data collection using the same method of the previous years, the complaints actually don’t spike at all,” Tavss said.

During a Fairleigh Dickinson-Public Mind survey, participants were asked to respond to the statement, “If wildlife scientists conclude that bears are exceeding their recommended habitat limits and are destroying private property a bear hunt should be allowed.”

The survey found that 53 percent of participants were in favor of a hunt, 36 percent were opposed and 11 percent were undecided.

“I have bears on my property and they do not bother me. They are beautiful animals,” Lois Messiana, BEAR Group member, said.

“We live in a development so close to Route 80 that you can hear it. Last week at noon, with children playing nearby, about when the bus drops kindergarteners off by our house, a large bear appeared only 15 feet from our front door. Thankfully, our barking dog prevented my son from running out the front door without looking and ending up right next to a startled bear,” Carl Rupp, a concerned resident of Rockaway, N.J., said.

According to Elaine Dunn, vice president of public relations and educational programs for the BEAR Group, in 2005 Governor Corzine explained that nonlethal measures, including bear-proof education seminars and enforcement of anti-feeding laws, needed to be taken more seriously.

Therefore, the DEP received  $440,000 to educate the community and issue citations to New Jersey residents who are not following the proper garbage procedures. Since 2005, fewer than 100,000 people have had the opportunity to take the seminar.

Currently, these seminars are no longer available but  instructions on bear-proofing for private residents and businesses are offered on the website . The DEP’s website states that 98 percent of New Jersey residents follow the anti-feeding laws, which would explain why only four citations have been issued since 2005.

However, it does raise the question if New Jersey residents are not feeding the bears, how can there be an increase in the bear population? Dunn explained that bears have a natural selection process, so that a pregnant bear below optimal weight to produce milk will automatically miscarry the pregnancy.

The DEP is currently offering free bear hunting seminars. This course is mandatory to become a certified hunter and to obtain a permit for the bear hunting season.

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Eleni Antipas

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