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Animal Rights Groups' Bid To Delay Bear Hunt Denied

POSTED: 1:45 pm EST December 2, 2005

UPDATED: 2:02 pm EST December 2, 2005

TRENTON, N.J. -- A state appellate panel on Friday denied a request to delay New Jersey's second bear hunt in 35 years, which is slated to begin next week. Animal rights groups filed an immediate appeal to the state Supreme Court.

We continue to believe that the hunt is not justifiable," said Kevin Barber, a lawyer for two animal rights groups that filed the lawsuit. "We're still in the game."

Martin McHugh, head of the state's Division of Fish and Wildlife, praised the appellate ruling.

"Obviously we're pleased with the decision. The Attorney General's office did a great job," he said.

Earlier Friday, opponents of the hunt scheduled to start Monday told the appellate panel the hunt should be postponed because New Jersey officials have not done enough to prove it is needed to curb the animals' encounters with people.

They also argued that state officials have not done enough to educate residents about how to prevent contact with bears, or determine how many of the animals live in the state. Barber said the six-day hunt could have long-term negative effects on the bear population.

A lawyer for the state argued the hunt would not damage the bear population and said it is the only way to trim their numbers and cut nuisance complaints about the animals.

State officials approved the hunt earlier this month as part of a bear management strategy that advocates say is needed to curb the increasing bear population. A 2003 hunt killed 328 of the animals.

"We think the comprehensive bear management policy is comprehensive and well-thought out," McHugh said after the ruling.

The state's bears have made a remarkable rebound since the 1970s, when fewer than 100 remained after nearly being eradicated by 19th century hunters who considered bears vermin. The animals now number in the thousands and have been spotted in all 21 counties, but are mainly concentrated in the state's northwestern areas.

Dean Jablowski, deputy state attorney general, told the court the hunt should be held as scheduled because pregnant female bears are in their dens at this time of year and because hunters and residents in the bear-rich northwestern area of the state have planned for the hunt, which is to begin Monday.

While the state does not know how many bears there are, it uses a research area in northern New Jersey to extrapolate data about the population. The bear management plan aims to reduce the number in that area over five years from about 1,600 animals now to the estimated 2002 level -- 1,317 animals.

The state's new bear management plan includes a hunt, public awareness campaign and creating bear-free zones near heavily populated areas. The bear exclusion zones encomp [no swearing please] Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Union, Middlesex and northern Monmouth counties; the state's midsection in Somerset and Mercer counties; along the western border and the Jersey Shore. Bears wandering into those zones would be relocated or killed if necessary.

If the hunt goes forward as scheduled, hunting would be permitted in the area north of Interstate 78 and west of Interstate 287. New York and Pennsylvania have similar hunts to help keep their bear populations in check.

Animal activists and environmentalists fought unsuccessfully to stop the 2003 hunt, arguing that overbuilding was to blame for increasing bear-human contact and that no impact study had been done.

Last year, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance sued when Campbell opposed a hunt after the state's Fish and Game Council had approved one. The state Supreme Court canceled the hunt four days before it was to begin, saying that a bear management program was needed first.
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