STATE—The Sierra Club strongly opposes the New Jersey Fish and Game Council’s plan to allow for a bear hunt starting in December. This hunt is unnecessary and undermines the need for a real bear management program that focuses on education and non-lethal alternatives to hunting, according to organization officials.
“[Tuesday]’s action by the Fish and Game Council is a step backward for bear management in New Jersey,” NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. “A hunt is not a bear management program.”
New Jersey has significantly cut back funds for bear management, including eliminating the bear warden program as well as cutting funds for officers providing education programs and bear aversion therapy, and other non-lethal methods of management. By cutting these funds, the state has eliminated the possibility of any type of effective bear management program and is now looking towards a hunt, which will not solve the problem of nuisance bears, according to the Sierra Club.
The type of hunt that is being proposed by the Fish and Game Council is not a management hunt, it’s a recreational hunt, according to the Sierra Club. Nuisance bears living under decks or behind sheds will not be affected by this hunt, since it will be focused in woodlands and areas such as Pequannock Watershed.
“While the hunt will kill docile bears in the middle of the forest, nuisance bears living under decks next to houses will remain,” Tittel said.
The Sierra Club supports an effective bear management plan that combines non-lethal methods of dealing with bears, public education, and steps that properly handle garbage.
The most important component in an effective bear management plan is education, according to the Sierra Club. More than half a million New Jerseyans live in bear country, but many of them do not have the expertise or experience to understand bears and know how to avoid confrontations with them. At the most basic level, people need to be taught that bears are wild animals and should be treated with respect and from a distance. People must be educated that feeding bears as they would pets is dangerous and will lead to aggressive behavior in the future.
Whether or not there is a hunt, New Jersey must deal with garbage or we’ll keep creating nuisance bears, according to the Sierra Club. Without a concerted effort to codify and enforce requirements on garbage, other bear policies will fail. The state needs to mandate bear-proof containers and locking dumpsters in bear country and ban the practice of leaving garbage out overnight. Garbage is a source of food for bears. If an abundant supply of trash is readily available, the bear population will increase and bears will become more aggressive as they learn that houses are good places to find food.
According to the Sierra Club, other ways New Jersey can manage its bear population and avoid a hunt include:
• Protecting habitat: Every year the state loses 8,000-10,000 acres of land in bear country. The more we build houses in the middle of the woods where bears live, the more conflict we will see between bears and humans.
• Non-lethal methods of dealing with conflicts between bears and humans: One of the most important programs that has been cut is bear aversion therapy, which trains bears to be afraid of humans and, thus, to avoid them.
• Bear-proofing important public areas: The state should work with towns and municipalities to put up fencing and take other steps to keep bears out of key areas, such as playgrounds.
• Working with farmers: The state needs to cooperate with the agricultural sector to provide small grants to farmers that allow them to bear-proof their properties and protect them from potential damage.
• Conservation officers: The state should have conservation officers and bear wardens to address bear complaints and educate the public about bears.
“The black bear is a symbol that we still have wild places in New Jersey and the whole state has not been paved over with subdivisions and strip malls,” Tittel said. “As New Jersey continues to suburbanize and more people move into bear country, we should be managing bears and protecting habitat instead of getting rid of the bears. We shouldn’t have a hunt just because it may be hard to sell condos in Vernon to people in Brooklyn in there’s bears in the area.”
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