The 2010 New Jersey Black Bear hunt was a success according to Patrick Carr, a wildlife biologist who has worked extensively on the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Plan for New Jersey.
“The 2010 season went from December 6-11,” said Carr. “A grand total of 591 bears were harvested during the week-long hunt. Sixty percent of those harvested were female and 40 percent were male, which is what we thought would happen; our research shows the New Jersey bear population is female dominant.”
The much publicized hunt had a lot of supporters as well as opposing animal rights groups. The last time a black bear hunt was allowed to take place in New Jersey was in 2005. Since then the state has tried to have another bear season only to have the hunt held up in court as a result of groups suing to stop the bear hunt from happening.
Recently, New Jersey elected a governor who was in favor of practical animal management that was based on science which, according to Carr the Management Plan, is backed by science.
“We have a lot of bears here in this state because we have a lot of hardwood forests that provide bears with a lot to eat.” said Carr. “When bears have a lot to eat they reproduce quickly and, before you know it, there were lots of bears in New Jersey.”
At the turn of the 19th century New Jersey had roughly 100 black bears. As of 2009, just the northern third of the state had more than 3,400 black bears.
“We have a lot of bears living here, and having a managed hunt is just a small piece of the puzzle to our overall management plan,” Carr explained. “We also educate the public on how to properly get rid of trash and keep bears out of their yard; we control damage and nuisance bears as well as do a lot of research on the bears. We kill about 30 nuisance bears a year that we consider dangerous. The dangerous bears are the ones that break into homes, or kill livestock or pets. ”
Offering a bear hunt not only helps control the overall bear population, but more specifically the hunt helped reduce the nuisance bear population.
“Twenty percent of the bears harvested during the 2010 hunting season were nuisance bears, and we knew that because when they were checked in, we were able to check the identification tags that had been attached before they were killed,” Carr noted. “Because they have a large home range, many of the bears harvested had spent some time in and around communities at some point during their lives. Previous hunting data from 2003 shows that many of the bears that are taken by hunters are taken less than 300 yards from a road, which shows many of the bears are regularly coming into towns and peoples’ yards.”
The 2010 bear hunt took place north of Interstate 78 and west of Interstate 287, covering 7 counties.
“We held our hunt during the New Jersey deer season in hopes it would get hunters in the woods hunting bears because they were already in the woods hunting deer,” Carr said. “We knew most hunters wouldn’t sacrifice deer hunting to hunt bears, and that most bear hunting would likely take place in concert with deer hunting. We had a lot of hunters, and as a result, 17 percent of the bear population was harvested.”
Even though 17 percent of the population was harvested, only 7.5 percent of hunters were successful.
“We didn’t allow hunters to use dogs, but restricted baiting was allowed,” said Carr. “Hunters who wanted to bait could not hunt from an elevated stand or a ground blind. Other methods such as driving and simply sitting and waiting in areas where bears live were popular hunting methods.”
All bears taken during the 2010 season had to be checked in.
“We already had biologist at check stations for deer hunters, so they could also check bear hunters,” Carr explained.
“Because this was the first season we had in a few years, and given the fact that there was plenty of food for the bears to eat, we figured we would check in some big bears—and we did.” In fact, a hunter registered one bear that weighed 651 pounds field-dressed, and another bear was estimated to weight more than 660 pounds live.
Most importantly, the hunt was safe and successful. “We didn’t have any issues with safety, and only one minor violation where a hunter took a bear in a safety zone near homes,” added Carr. “Safety is obviously always a concern.”
Carr stated that hunting is one of many tools in the tool box of the New Jersey Department of Natural Resources’ management tools to reduce human/bear interactions.
“Hunting is a great way to reduce bear numbers and reduce bear problems,” said Carr. “In fact, two of the bears taken during the 2010 season had been known to winter underneath houses—either underneath a crawl space or under a porch or deck. That is two less nuisance bears to cause potential problems.”
The bear hunt is again being planned for 2011.
“As long as science supports a bear hunt, we will have one,” said Carr. “Of course the 2011 bear hunt will also depend on what the court system says. One group is trying to stop the hunt once again. Only time will tell if hunters will be able to harvest bears again in New Jersey this fall.”