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NJ DEPARTMENT of ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
Natural and Historic Resources
Division of Fish and Wildlife

Notice of Rule Proposal
Game Code, Black Bear (Ursus americanus), Proposed Amendments: N.J.A.C. 7:25-5.6 and 5.24

PUBLIC NOTICE
Take notice that the NJ Department of Environmental Protection is proposing amendments.  A statement of the substance of the proposal follows: The Game Code, N.J.A.C. 7:25-5, provides when, under what circumstances, in what location, by what means, and what amounts and numbers, game-birds, game animals and fur-bearing animals may be pursued, taken, killed or had in possession.  The Game Code is codified at N.J.A.C. 7:25‑5, in the Department's Division of Fish and Wildlife Rules.  N.J.A.C. 7:25-5.6 is the rule governing the management of black bear.  The New Jersey Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy (CBBMP) which is developed by the Council and approved by the DEP Commissioner in accordance with N.J.S.A. 13:1B-28, is promulgated as part of the Game Code as an appendix to N.J.A.C. 7:25-5.6.  For that reason, the proposal is executed by both the Acting Chair of the Council and the DEP Commissioner.

Proposed Changes to Current Regulation
This proposal comprises amendments that address black bear only, including amendments to update the CBBMP, and, in the rule governing the black bear hunt, the addition of additional hunting days in October; the criterion for automatic closure of the black bear hunting season; the inclusion of archery hunting for black bear; the change of the bag limit from one to two bears; boundary changes for some Bear Management Zones (BMZ); the addition of four days after the December hunt segment if the anticipated harvest has not been met; the elimination of a lottery for black bear hunting permits; and the inclusion of the display of hunter orange if utilizing a ground blind for bear hunting concurrent with a firearm deer season.

Five years ago, the Council created the CBBMP in response to a New Jersey Supreme Court opinion in which the Court stated that the Department of Environmental Protection (Department) could not cancel a hunt authorized by the Council, but that the Council could not authorize a hunt absent a comprehensive management policy. The Council created the first CBBMP in 2010 and Department staff anticipated that the policy would be in effect for five years. The CBBMP was appended to the Game Code and the Game Code was changed to reflect the Council’s recommendations in the Policy which included a December black bear hunt. The December 2014 hunt was the fifth annual black bear hunt.  Data from these hunts has been gathered by the Department for the Council’s use in updating the CBBMP.  Adoption of the updated policy, will allow the Council to continue to authorize a December hunt.  The amendments additionally authorize additional hunting days, the use of additional weaponry, and other changes based on the scientific data on the health of the black bear population in New Jersey.

Specifically, the Council is proposing to add additional days to the black bear hunting season during October, beginning in 2016.  The bear season will then consist of two six-day segments, one in October and one in December. The proposed additional hunting segment will occur during the second week of October and will allow for more consistent harvests, with essentially all bears available for hunting and with fewer no or low harvest days due to weather events, as can occur during the current December hunt.  This new extended hunting season will provide appropriate long-term bear population management based on scientific studies.  In addition, farmers are expected to experience relief from crop damage as a result of the reduction in the general bear population anticipated to result from the October hunt, as well as a decrease in bears on their particular property if they choose to allow hunting of bears on their lands in October, a month when a substantial amount of crop damage occurs by bears.

A criterion for closure of the bear hunting season is proposed.  If the harvest rate reaches 30% during the bear season, the season will be closed 24 hours from the day on which the Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) made the determination that this harvest rate was achieved. Harvest rate equals the number of harvested bears that were tagged in the current calendar year within Bear Management Zones (BMZs) open to hunting divided by the number of bears that were tagged in the current calendar year that are available for harvest (total number of bears tagged in the current year within BMZs open to hunting minus known mortality of such tagged bears and number of such tagged bears known to have left the BMZs that are open to hunting) Harvest rates are calculated at the close of each day of the season using data gathered both before and during each season. While season harvest rates of at least 20% should be achieved in order to affect a population reduction, harvest rates higher than 30% may result in an excessive number of bears being taken.  To institute a season closure, one day is needed to announce the closure by press release, radio, the Division's website (www.njfishandwildlife.com) and other media. Harvest rates during the last five years  reached a high of 18% in 2010 and have steadily declined to a low of approximately 7% in 2014.

Archery equipment and muzzleloading rifles are proposed for use during the October segment of the bear season.  The first three days of this segment will be archery only; the last three days will be archery and muzzleloader.  Archery is a safe and effective hunting method used in all states with bear hunting seasons and will provide increased opportunity for bear hunters in New Jersey.  Current statutes allow archers to hunt no less than 150 feet from a dwelling, which is closer than is allowed for firearm hunting (450 feet).  Since many bears spend part of their time close to dwellings, archery hunting is expected to increase the percentage of nuisance bears harvested during the bear season.  Muzzleloaders have been used safely and effectively for bear hunting during past December seasons.  

The Council proposes to allow for the take of a second bear.  The proposal would allow a hunter who harvests a bear during the October segment of the bear season to harvest an additional bear during the December segment of the season, provided another permit is available for the hunter to purchase for the December segment.  Bear permits cost $2. It is expected that less than 1% of bear hunters will harvest a bear in both segments of the bear season. 

The boundaries for BMZs 5 and 6 are proposed for modification, and a new BMZ 7 is proposed to be created. These new boundaries will allow for more efficient management of bears in northeastern, central, and southern parts of the State, based on current data on bear damage and nuisance activity, as well as habitat use.  The newly delineated BMZ 5 will provide relief from bear damage and nuisance to residents of Hunterdon, Somerset, eastern Morris and southern Passaic Counties. 

The Council proposes to allow four additional days of bear hunting after the December segment of the season if the appropriate harvest of bears has not been achieved.  A specific yearly rate of harvest must be achieved to effectively reduce the bear population to a level commensurate with available habitat and consistent with a reduced risk to public safety and property.  Harvest rates are calculated at the close of each day of the season using data gathered both before and during each season.  In order to reduce the bear population, the harvest rate (percentage of the bear population harvested during the season) should reach 20%.  If this harvest rate is not met by the end of the December segment of the season, the four additional days of hunting in December shall be authorized.

The lottery for bear hunting permits is proposed to be eliminated.  The lottery for bear season permits remains undersubscribed.  For several years permits have been available over the counter after the lottery in all Bear Management Zones.  Eliminating the lottery is a cost savings for the Division. 

The Council is proposing to add bear hunters to the regulation requiring the use of hunter orange when bow hunting in ground blinds during the firearm deer seasons.  Currently, the regulation only applies to “bowhunters hunting for deer and utilizing a ground blind during a time period when the bowhunting season is concurrent with a deer firearm season.”  By proposing to include bear hunters and bear firearm seasons to this provision, the required use of hunter orange would also apply to those who are bow hunting for bears in ground blinds during the firearm bear seasons.  The use of hunter orange on ground blinds for archers was instituted for safety reasons during the firearm deer hunting seasons, and, since the archery bear season will run concurrently with the firearm bear season, the Council has determined that archers hunting for bears should also be required to utilize hunter orange while in ground blinds to promote hunter safety.

The CBBMP with proposed amendments will continue as an Appendix to the Game Code.  Extant tables, graphs and charts in the CBBMP are updated with data collected since the CBBMP was initially written in 2010.

The proposal is scheduled to be published in the New Jersey Register dated May 18, 2015.  A copy of the proposal is available from: http://www.nj.gov/dep/rules/proposals/20150518a.pdf; Division of Fish and Wildlife website; and LexisNexis free public access to the New Jersey Register, www.lexisnexis.com/njoal).

A public hearing concerning the proposal is scheduled as follows:
Tuesday, June 2, 2015 at 6:30 p.m.
NJ State Museum
Auditorium
205 West State Street
Trenton, NJ 08625

Written comments may be submitted electronically by July 17, 2015 at www.nj.gov/dep/rules/comments; or

In hard copy to:
Gary Brower
ATTN: DEP Docket No._04-15-04
NJ Department of Environmental Protection
Office of Legal Affairs
Mail Code 401-04L; PO Box 402
401 East State Street, 7th Floor
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

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Last Updated: June 12, 2017