COMMISSIONER SENDS LETTER TO NEW JERSEY FISH AND GAME COUNCIL
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
The Council will meet on Tuesday, March
9, to address proposed changes to the 2004-05 statewide
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
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
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
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
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