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DEP Commissioner Campbell's Letter to New Jersey Fish and Game Council Regarding Black Bears

(03/25) Trenton— Attached is Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell's letter to the New Jersey Fish and Game Council's chairman W. Scott Ellis concerning the management of the state's black bear population.

Also attached is a brief summary of findings and recommendations from the independent black bear panel referenced by Commissioner Campbell in his letter to the Council. The panel conducted a review of New Jersey's bear population estimates, and examined management tools and potential population control measures to recommend to the state based upon their population review.

A full copy of the independent review panel's report is available upon request.


March 6, 2003

Mr. W. Scott Ellis, Chairman
New Jersey Fish and Game Council
P.O. Box 400
Trenton, New Jersey 08625

Dear Chairman Ellis:

I would like to share with you my views and some cautionary notes prior to the meeting of the Fish and Game Council on Friday, March 7, 2003.

As you are aware, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and its Fish and Wildlife Division have devoted substantial time and resources over the past year to the challenge of managing New Jersey's black bear population. The recovery of the population truly has been a natural resource success story, and the Fish and Game Council has played a critical role in that effort. By eliminating the black bear hunt in 1970, the Council allowed our black bear population to recover. Thanks to the stewardship of our Fish and Wildlife Division, we now have confidence that New Jersey's wildlife resources will forever include a vibrant population of these majestic animals.

This success has brought with it new challenges. Population increases have coincided with significant losses of black bear habitat to overdevelopment. The misguided and often inadvertent feeding of bears and other practices in communities adjoining bear habitat have encouraged bears to intrude on highways, community areas, and residences, presenting risks both to public safety and to the bears themselves. Over the past year, the number of incidents in which aggressive bears have put either property or personal safety at risk has more than doubled. The tragic loss of a child in such an incident in New York highlights the seriousness of the issue and the need for a responsive strategy.

Our response has addressed all of these issues. To protect threatened black bear habitat, Governor McGreevey has taken aggressive action to stop overdevelopment and protect open space. The Governor has launched a Highlands conservation initiative that will provide at least an additional $50 million over the next three years to protect and conserve the Highlands region, which is the heart of black bear habitat. To discourage risky behavior in our communities, I supplemented the education efforts of our Fish and Wildlife Division and private groups with a series of public meetings to inform communities in bear country about the common-sense steps available to reduce the risk of potentially dangerous interactions with black bears. To develop more non-lethal tools to manage the population, I recently announced a memorandum of understanding with the Humane Society of the United States to develop an immuno-contraception pilot that may strengthen the effort to manage this population in future.

One consistent and striking public concern voiced at our public meetings was a high level of skepticism and distrust of the population data our Fish and Wildlife Division has used to make bear management decisions in the past. Responding to this concern, I convened an independent review panel of outside experts - including sportsmen, animal protection advocates, and scientists and statisticians from across the region - to consider the data and methodology currently used by the Division to project black bear populations. I was especially concerned about this because the Division's internal projection of the current population has increased by more than 70 percent over the past several months.

The independent panel identified several weaknesses in the Division's past analytical approach, as well as a number of areas where further work is needed. For purposes of the Council's meeting this week, the important point is that the population numbers are clearly uncertain. While the Division has most recently projected a population of 3278, the panel concluded that the population may be as low as 1350. The panel 's summary report is attached.

In light of these considerations, I urge the Council to exercise caution in the use of current data to support a bear hunt. Based on our past discussions, I understand that the Council is likely to consider a bear hunt at its meeting tomorrow, as part of the Council's annual revisions to the game code. In order to ensure that any such decision is based on good data and sound science, I would urge that the Council recognize the limitations of the data in making its decision. If the Council decides to authorize a bear hunt, any hunt should be strictly limited in scope, scale, and duration, and should provide the Department with the flexibility to terminate the hunt if the number of bears killed appears excessive in relation to the data available at the time. Finally, to avoid any appearance that the hunt is being authorized for revenue purposes, I urge that the Council waive any license or related fees in connection with licenses to hunt black bears.

I urge the Council to recognize the limitations of the current data and exercise prudence in considering whether a bear hunt is warranted after 30 years of conservation success. Through a more cautious approach, the Council can help to address our current bear management challenges while maintaining public support for the use of hunting as a wildlife management tool and honoring New Jersey's sporting traditions.

Thank you for considering my views.


Bradley M. Campbell


MARCH 6, 2003



On February 4, 2003, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell named scientists, governmental representatives and interested persons to serve on an independent bear panel. The purpose of the panel was to review the black bear population estimates of DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife, and, if possible, make recommendations on management issues based upon their review of the estimates. The panel did not focus on hunting or the hunting debate.

In the series of public meetings on the bear population that the DEP had held around the State, citizens raised concerns about the adequacy and soundness of the population estimates. The independent review panel was designed to open the process to review by interested groups and ensure thoughtful deliberation of both data/modeling and appropriate management practices.

The members of the independent bear panel were: Louis Berchielli, biologist, New York Department of Environmental Conservation; George Howard, biologist, New Jersey Fish and Game Council; Dr. Lynn Rogers, biologist, Wildlife Research Institute - Minnesota; Dr. Allen Rutberg, biologist, Tufts University; Harry Spiker, biologist, Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Lynda Smith, Bear Citizen Group. Dante DiPirro, Counselor and Legal Policy Advisor to the Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, chaired the panel on behalf of the Commissioner; his function was to preside over the panel and facilitate its work.

Three independent statistical experts-- Dr. Michael Conroy of the University of Georgia, Dr. Gary White of Colorado State University and Dr. Edwin Green of Rutgers University-- assisted the panel. They reviewed the data and modeling and provided their comments to the panelists.

Decision-making Process

This report and the recommendations contained in it represent the conscientious efforts of all the members of the panel and the statistical experts. The panel has been able to reach a consensus on a number of issues that are set forth in the first section of this report. The panel felt that it was important to attempt to reach consensus whenever possible to assist public debate on bear issues. Each panelist has been given the opportunity to include his or her own personal comments in the final section of the report.


Population Estimates

The Division of Fish and Wildlife recently projected a population of 3278 adult black bears in New Jersey. With the assistance of the consulting statistical experts, the panel reviewed the Division's study.

The panel was not able to reach a consensus on whether the Division of Fish and Wildlife's population estimate could be relied upon. Some panelists felt the estimate was reasonable. Others had concerns with the approach and assumptions that were too significant to accept the estimate without further inquiry. The consulting statistical experts also split on the issue of the population estimate's reliability.

The panel did agree that Fish and Wildlife staff has collected a good amount of data, handled and examined numerous bears, collected hair samples as part of monitoring and outfitted and tracked a good number of bears with radio collars.

The panel further agreed that further modeling and data collection is appropriate. Revised modeling should, at a minimum, address the following issues:

  • assumptions used to expand population estimates;

  • estimation of the area of influence around each hair snare;

  • assumption of uniformity over the prime bear range;

  • establishment of appropriate confidence interval;

  • evaluation of baiting and whether it skews sampling by attracting bears into what is otherwise not their range;

  • model selection evaluation of whether modeling selection results in an over or under estimation of population;

  • data collection re: birth rate, death rate, age, gender, distribution, home range and movement;

  • possible selection of several discrete areas (varying and representative) where rigorous sampling would be done; and

  • establishment and analysis of population growth rate.

The panel would like to see these issues addressed in the next round of the Division's modeling. By addressing and building in these factors, this process should be able to arrive at population estimates and trend data that can be widely accepted.

In the meantime, the panel determined that it would be helpful if it could reach a consensus on a potential range in population, even if all that could be offered would be an estimate. To do so, the panel did not rely upon the Fish and Wildlife estimate. In order to arrive at a conservative estimate, the panel: started with the estimate of New Jersey field researcher, Patty McConnell, of 550 adult black bear in 1992; picked what it believed was a conservative estimated growth rate of 8.5% per year (reproductive rate less mortality rate); then multiplied this growth rate out each year through 2003; this calculation yielded a conservative estimate of approximately 1350 adult black bear through 2003.

There was no consensus that the 8.5 percent figure was in fact the correct number. Some panelists felt the number was low. Others noted that the number was not arrived at scientifically but was selected by the panelists in order to be able to present what was likely a conservative estimate. It was further noted that if the growth rate were in reality double that used, (i.e. 17%), the population estimate would exceed 3,000. The panel felt that providing this information, with the caveats stated herein, would at least provide some assistance to the public.

Population Trends

It appears to the panel that the number of bears in the State has increased, though it is not possible for the panel to evaluate what the growth trend is or determine if the increase is statistically significant. We will be attempting to determine this as the State goes forward with enhanced modeling over the next year.

Management Practices

The panel was able to reach consensus on the importance of bear management activities such as public education, aversive conditioning, response to nuisance complaints, enforcement of the prohibition on feeding bears, proper securing of garbage, cooperation between local, municipal and State enforcement officers and the need to change public attitudes towards bears and the bear population. More on these topics is contained in the comments of individual panelists at the conclusion of this report.

On-going Work

The panel believes that it can contribute to the process going forward and is willing to continue to serve if the Commissioner determines that it would be helpful. In this regard, the panel could work with Fish and Wildlife concerning modeling, data collection, review of modeling results, review of existing and potential management practices and any other bear-related issues.



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