March 21, 2023

Fewer Bear Encounters In New Jersey

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Officials are reporting that there are fewer reports of bear encounters with humans as compared to the same time period last year in New Jersey. Reports have dropped off 26%.  As of June 5, there had been 534 complaints compared to 723 last year.

Some officials say that the bear hunts that have taken place 2 of the last 3 years are beginning to pay off but animal rights groups say it is their efforts in educating people in how to live with bears.

People on both sides of the controversial bear hunt agree that reducing the bruin population is only part of the reason complaints have dropped. They suggest that nearly a decade of constant public education aimed at teaching people how to live safely among bears may be paying off.

“I think the hunt certainly has had some impact,” said George P. Howard, a former chairman of the state Fish and Game Council and now the conservation director for the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen. “But there’s also been a lot of educational efforts for people who live in bear areas. People are gradually learning to live with the bears.”

“The bears have been a big story in the media for seven years,” said Lynda Smith, the director of the Bear Education and Resource group of West Milford, a volunteer organization opposed to hunting that educates people on how to live with bears. “I think people are behaving differently. Nowadays, someone sees a bear in their back yard and it’s not that big of an issue.”

This kind of mentality is dangerous and should not be passed on to the general public. Teaching people to “live with bears” is making them believe that bears are not a danger to humans. Teaching them to lock up their garbage cans and take down the bird feeders is one thing but implying that people don’t think having bears in their back yards is “not that big of an issue”, invites trouble.

Bears must be considered to be a potential danger to any human at anytime. Yes we have to take precautions and do what we can to minimize the lure of bears to our back yards but don’t minimize the potential threat a bear can bring.

But while all this has been going on, police are killing bears in the Bear Exclusion Zone. This is an area in urban zones in the state where the governor, who is opposed to bear hunting, has given the green light for police to kill any bear that enters the BEZ. Three have been killed to date.

One has to ask if police officers walking a beat or patroling in Trenton are properly trained to be dispatching bears.

Many police officers who work within the BEZ don’t like the idea of using their firearms to kill a bear. “If there’s a bear on the street and there’s also kids walking in the neighborhood at the same time, then that definitely would be a factor in whether I draw my gun or not,” said Thomas Norton, a police captain in Wanaque, a town partly within the BEZ and partly outside it. “We’d rather shoo it back into the woods than shoot it.”

Shoo them back into the woods? Are you serious?

As long as New Jersey continues down the right path toward resolving the bear problem they will be okay. I personally think they need to stop the bear exclusion zone foolishness.

Groups should responsibly and truthfully educate people on how best to deal with bears. The hunts should be continued and probably need to be increased and cover a greater area. In time, the vast majority of bear issues in downtown Trenton and in people’s back yards will all but disappear.

Tom Remington