County legislators ask state to reinstate bear hunt

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    SUSSEX COUNTY-A string of recent complaints involving bears has prompted two Sussex County legislators to ask the state to reinstate a hunt. In a letter to Department of Environmental Protection Agency commissioner Bradley Campbell last week, Sen. Robert Littell (R-24) and his daughter, Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, said "we believe strongly that a hunt is a vital component in the scientific management of the bear population." Campbell is mulling a state Fish and Wildlife Council management plan that includes reinstating a bear hunt. A public hearing regarding the matter was held this week. "While no final decision has been made, I do agree with the council that sound wildlife principles and public safety require that we consider a hunt as part of New Jersey's black bear management strategy in this and future years," said Campbell. The commissioner had endorsed the state's first bear hunt in 33 years in 2003, when hunters killed 328 bruins during a six-day season. Last year, he said another hunt was unnecessary. Earlier this week, authorities tranquilized, tagged, and then chased back into the woods a mother and two of her cubs after they were caught going through the trash on the rear deck of a Highland Lakes home. Billie Chociey said she had moved her garbage to the rear deck from the side of her Shawondasse Road home after bears had gotten into it a few days earlier. Neighbor Mark Rabtzow, whose backyard adjoins the rear property of the Chociey home, also called police that morning to report that four bears were eating trash near his deck. The township prohibits the feeding of bears, but does not have any ordinances governing the disposal of trash, police said. Last week, the state provided West Milford with a $200,000 grant to purchase two bear-proof trash cans for each family in six township neighborhoods that have been witness to heavy bear activity. The Bear Education and Resource Group encourages the use of bear-proof trash cans to limit the number of bear complaints. In the past three months, the Newton Police Department has handled 140 black bear incidents compared to 34 complaints during the same period last year. Police said many of the incidents involved bears rummaging through residential and commercial garbage stored outside. Newton authorities said residents and businesses should clean trash containers regularly and not place them for pick-up until the collection date. Police also advised residents that bird feeders should be removed from property until Dec. 1, when bears are most likely to become inactive and not forage for food. Intentionally or negligently feeding black bears in Newton carries a $1,000 fine for each offense. Animal rights activists have vowed a turbulent campaign to ward off another hunt, which resulted in a contentious and often hostile debate two years ago in Sussex County, where at least 1,200 bears call home. Officials of the Humane Society of the United States have said they will directly petition acting Gov. Richard Codey and the Legislature to derail a hunt, bypassing Campbell and DEP. In April, the Division of Fish and Wildlife issued its most expansive bear alert in 30 years, warning that bruins were likely to be seen in all 21 New Jersey counties. Since then, bears have rambled through urban Hudson County, wandered through Woodbridge, disrupted business operations in Union Township, and gone swimming in Sandy Hook Bay. In Sussex County, home to the state's highest concentration of bears, a 500-pound black bear killed and ate a miniature horse. Several others have broken into homes, terrifying their occupants. Last week, wildlife officials shot and killed a 200-pound bear after he targeted a 3-year-old boy outside the infant's home in Fredon. The number of bears that call New Jersey home is not known for sure. In 2003, prior to the hunt, biologists estimated as many as 3,200 bears lived in the Northwest quadrant, an area covering 1,100 square miles. But because the hunt initiated so much controversy, DEP officials have began looking for a more accurate figure, focusing on a 580-square-mile section of the quadrant. Animal rights activists have said the state has not done enough to rein in the bear population through alternatives to hunting, including contraception. They are also calling on the state to better educate the population about living among bears.