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March 5, 2004

Contact: Elaine Makatura

Recommends Council omit bear hunt from game code

(04/16) TRENTON - Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today sent the following letter to the Chairman of the Fish and Game Council, W. Scott Ellis, and to Council members regarding a proposed black bear hunt this year in New Jersey.

The Council will meet on Tuesday, March 9, to address proposed changes to the 2004-05 statewide game code.

The text of the letter is below.

March 5, 2004

Mr. W. Scott Ellis, Chairman
Fish & Game Council
252 Sawmill Road
Trenton, New Jersey 08620

Dear Scott:

I am writing to you in anticipation of your meeting on Tuesday, March 9, when the Fish and Game Council will consider revisions to the game code and decide whether to authorize a black bear hunt in the code. I am enclosing a copy of the relevant report by biologists of the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Last year, the Fish and Game Council authorized the first bear hunt in New Jersey in more than thirty years. This followed the Council's abortive attempt to authorize a hunt in 2000, when Governor Whitman and then-Director of the Fish and Wildlife Division Robert McDowell prevailed upon Council members to accede to public opposition to the hunt.

Recognizing that history, I devoted substantial time and effort last year to publicly support the Council's decision to authorize the hunt, to take on the public controversy surrounding the decision, and to make clear that the hunt was an appropriate management step at the time. My support was premised on a number of factors, including: independently reviewed data establishing a rapidly expanding population; commitment to a comprehensive management strategy that includes education, feeding ban enforcement, and immunocontraception; and demonstration of an increasing public safety threat.

Reviewing these factors and commitments today, I do not believe that they support inclusion of a black bear hunt in the game code at this time.

Population Data. At the time of the Council's adoption of the Game Code last year, the Fish and Wildlife Division presented black bear population estimates to the Council of approximately 3200 animals. The most recent estimate by our black bear biologists presents an estimate of less than half that number. Thus, while the hunt accounted for the killing of 328 bears, this reduction must be considered in light of the better data developed as a result of the hunt, which document a population more than fifty percent smaller than assumed at the time of game code adoption last year. In my discussions with Fish and Wildlife Division biologists, the biologists suggested that, among other factors accounting for the change in population estimate, dispersal of bears to Pennsylvania and New York may be stabilizing the population at far lower numbers than previously thought.

While I fully agree with our biologists' conclusion that even the revised estimate documents a "huntable" population - i.e. a population that can be hunted without endangering the viability or long-term population of bears in New Jersey, the substantial difference in population estimates between this year and last militates against inclusion of a bear hunt in the code at this time. The data does not currently document the rapidly expanding population supposed at the time of the last game code adoption.

Comprehensive Management Strategy. In supporting last year's hunt, I publicly committed to ensuring that the hunt would not be our exclusive tool for managing the bear population and protecting public safety. See, e.g. Bradley M. Campbell, "Why New Jersey Needs a Bear Hunt," The Record, November 28, 2003. Yet, administration of the hunt in the context of substantial public controversy severely limits the staff time and resources available for public education, bear feeding-ban enforcement, and development of immunocontraceptive alternatives. Our efforts in these latter areas were curtailed during the pendency of the hunt. I believe we need to show substantial additional progress in each of these areas before considering another black bear hunt.

Risks to Safety and Property. While I continue to believe that last year's hunt was an appropriate measure to address an alarming increase in black bear incidents in which either public safety or property was put at risk (such incidents had nearly doubled over two years), other elements of our bear management strategy are equally as important in reducing risk to the public. Even if the bear population is less than half the previous estimate, the public will be at risk if we do not enhance efforts to enforce the feeding ban and to educate the public about risk reduction. As stated, the resource demands of the hunt have curtailed these efforts.

I recognize that education and enforcement may not address the losses that agriculture producers in the region suffer from nuisance bears. Accordingly, I am directing the Fish and Wildlife Division to revise the applicable depredation permits to provide much greater flexibility for farmers to destroy nuisance bears.

Together, we demonstrated that a limited black bear hunt could be a safe and successful element of a comprehensive black bear management strategy. I believe that to maintain public confidence in our wildlife management decisions and to build support for New Jersey's hunting traditions, we must continue the cautious approach and honor the commitments we have made.

Accordingly, I ask for your support in omitting the black bear hunt from this year's game code adoption, and thus continuing the close cooperative relationship that has marked our work together over the past two years.



Bradley M. Campbell

C: The Honorable Charles Kuperus, Secretary of Agriculture






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