State proposes bear-free zones to rein in bruins

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:53

TRENTON - State Environmental authorities have proposed limiting the state's increasingly visible black bears to the less populated two-thirds of New Jersey. The five-year plan drafted by the state Fish and Game Council and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell was released Thursday. It also calls for reducing human and bear conflicts through public education and improving trash control policies, including mandating bear-resistant containers. But, the policy says, the Garden State must dedicate money toward those efforts. Experiments with birth control vaccines should continue, and a bear hunt is proposed for Dec. 5 to Dec. 10 _ if Campbell approves the hunt following a public comment period. The proposal for a so-called ``bear exclusion zone'' targets the heavily populated areas of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Union, Middlesex and northern Monmouth counties. The zone crosses the state's midsection through Somerset and Mercer counties, and along the western border and the Jersey shore. Recommendations for the ``bear exclusion zone'' call for bruins that wander into the zone be removed, and perhaps destroyed. The state would continue to categorize the activity of problem bears, with only those displaying a threat to humans, livestock and property classified as continued nuisances and killed. Other errant bears can be relocated. Cook College in New Brunswick will host a Sept. 21 public hearing. Written comments will be accepted by the state until Oct. 6. The animals have been spotted in all 21 counties, but there is no statewide population estimate. In 2003, biologists said up to 3,200 bears were living within a 1,558-square-mile region north of Route 78 and west of Route 287. That is where New Jersey held its first bear hunt since 1970. During six days in December 2003, hunters killed 328 bears.