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Bear hunt plans put safety first

courier-news editorial 11.17.05

The politics of bear hunting in New Jersey in recent years were never more apparent than when Department of Environmental Commissioner Bradley Campbell this week approved a new six-day hunt for December.

We should say first that it was the right decision. While animal rights activists and some wildlife experts disagree, it remains rather clear that hunting should be a part of any bear management program to reduce the population. Public safety has to come first, and this is an appropriate step.

Also encouraging is the long-range management plan of which this year's hunt is only a part, and which includes other non-lethal measures such as public education and exploration of contraceptives. The Fish and Game Council's five-year plan actually projects several years of hunts, a logical approach to ensure some meaningful impact.

So it appears the state has once and for all gotten a secure handle on how to tackle its problem of bear overpopulation. But it deserves to be noted just how much these actions reinforce the fact that politics, not public safety or science, had been governing Campbell's approach.

In 2003, Campbell supported the state's first bear hunt in 33 years. But in 2004, Campbell balked at a second hunt in a bow to vocal protesters. He went so far as to go to court to wrest power of final approval away from the Fish and Game Council to stop the hunt.

In reversing course again this year, Campbell explained that incidents of potentially dangerous contact between bears and humans are rising after having subsided in the wake of the 2003 hunt.

But Campbell's rationale doesn't line up with his own past comments. First, he implies that stopping the hunt in 2004 was appropriate because of the effectiveness of the first hunt. But he had signalled his opposition to last year's hunt by March 2004, at a time when the impact of the 2003 hunt couldn't possibly be assessed. He theorized then that the bear population had been overestimated, a view strongly opposed by the Council. A few months later, Campbell had switched gears, dropping the overestimate claim and instead emphasizing that many residents' discomfort with the hunt was a prime reason behind his opposition.

Campbell also overstates the significance of the drop in incidents of bear-human contact. In August of last year, for instance, there was a dramatic increase in incidents categorized as serious -- when a bear kills, damages or threatens people, livestock, pets or property. And regardless of the overall volume of reports, it has been apparent all along that there are still too many of those serious occurrences for anyone's comfort.

Any effective bear management program should include several elements, including hunting, as understandably difficult as that is for some people to accept. Campbell has clearly let political considerations get in the way of proper decision-making in the past. We hope that has changed for good and will continue under a new administration in Trenton.

What's your reaction to today's opinion? Tell us at [email protected]

from the Courier News website
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