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Bear in mind, hunters and animal-rights groups seldom agree

By Abbott Koloff, Daily Record 7/15/05

John Rogalo, a hunter from Stanhope, accepted an invitation to be part of a panel discussing bears in New Jersey. He did not travel to Trenton this week to be with the rest of the panelists. He taped the show from a Newark studio. He said he did not want to sit in the same room as two panelists who oppose hunting.

They are not, apparently, his favorite people.

Hunters and animal-rights advocates don't appear to have much in common. Still, they found some common ground this week. They agreed that a video on bears encountering humans in New Jersey, to be aired next week on NJN, has been improved after being re-edited. Some on both sides agreed that Bradley Campbell, the state's Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, sways in the political wind when it comes to the prospect of a bear hunt.

They agreed that bears are beautiful creatures and should be respected.

It's just that one group would respect them as bear stew.

Tom Phillips, of Holmdel, director of the video "Bears: Too Close for Comfort," said he was a little surprised that animal-rights groups changed their tune this week and stopped complaining about his documentary. Two activists originally part of the documentary had complained earlier this year that it was overly dramatic and presented bears as more dangerous than they are. They complained about ominous-sounding music. They started a campaign to put pressure on NJN, which planned to air the video, to pull the plug on Phillips' project.

"They stabbed me in the back," Phillips said.

Network officials decided at the time against showing the video but said they weren't influenced by public pressure. They said there were problems with releases signed by two animal-rights advocates who were part of the documentary. Now, with changes that include different animal-rights advocates, NJN is scheduled to air the video on Monday, July 25, at 9 p.m. and to follow it with a panel discussion taped this past Tuesday.

Lynda Smith of West Milford, director of the Bear Education And Resource Group and a member of the NJN panel, was edited out of the video. She said she still has a problem with the music. She still has a problem with the camera angles. But she said it appears the new video is more balanced. Hunters also said it was improved because Smith is out and a biologist has taken her place.

"Ain't that something?" said Erik Bunk, of West Milford, a northern New Jersey director of the Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America, also a member of the NJN panel. "We agree on something."

They also agree that Campbell, who participated in the NJN panel, has been influenced too much by politics. Bunk said Campbell was being political when he ignored the counsel of state biologists and canceled last year's scheduled bear hunt. Rogalo, president of the Morris County chapter of the State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said he has only good things to say about Campbell now that the commissioner supports a bear hunt for the end of this year. Smith said Campbell now is being too political, influenced by hunters and the National Rifle Association. Campbell has said his decisions are based on evidence. Bear complaints were down last year; they increased by 70 percent during the first half of this year.

Phillips' video does not come to a conclusion about a bear hunt. It is not a pro-hunting documentary. It is not anti-hunting. It focuses on some human-bear encounters from 2003. Animal-rights groups have a point when they say some of those encounters are presented without enough context. The video shows images of a little boy who had been swatted on the head by a bear in Sparta. It shows his mother saying she believed the bear meant no harm. But it does not show something that Phillips said he didn't know about until later. The mother told reporters two years ago that she had been feeding the bears. That explained why they came to her house.

Phillips said he is not a hunter. He said that while filming he came to the conclusion that the state needs a bear hunt - but he did not present that conclusion in his documentary. Yes, there is some ominous sounding music. Yes, some camera angles are meant to evoke an emotional response to danger. But the video also showed some cute, cuddly cubs. It was not unsympathetic to bears.

It presented various points of view on a bear hunt. It showed one biologist saying contraception is not a proven way to manage wildlife. It showed a Canadian biologist saying a bear hunt might not help make people safe.

"A reduction of bears won't necessarily reduce the number of complaints (about bears)," Dan LeGrandeur, of the Canadian Bear Alliance, said in the documentary. "Unless you exterminate every bear in New Jersey, you're always going to have problem bears."

That is what some local animal-rights groups have been saying. Phillips presented both sides of the argument. He let viewers come to their own conclusions. He said the most significant addition to the new version is a biologist explaining what might have motivated bears during their encounters with humans. He said that was lacking in the first version. He said his documentary, although only slightly different, has been improved.

It is not clear why it ever was so controversial. Phillips speculates now that animal-rights activists didn't like the fact that they came off as rowdy while protesting the 2003 bear hunt while hunters appear to be calmly going about their business. But you could argue that the video's images of dead bears brought to weigh stations during the hunt don't help the hunters' cause. Phillips said he wanted to show the problem as one of land use. He said hunters and animal-rights activists have something in common. They want to preserve open space. They want animal populations to thrive.

"They only argue over tools," he said.

It is appropriate for the residents of New Jersey to have some say over what tools are used to manage wildlife. It is appropriate for politicians chosen by the people, and those they hire to run government agencies, to have some say over how hunting is regulated. Those officials are now saying that a hunt appears to be the best way to manage the state's bear population. Animal-rights activists won't compromise their position that hunting is wrong. Officials one day might determine that a hunt is not the best way to manage bears. A lot of hunters probably won't compromise their position that they have a right to hunt game animals for recreation, whether or not a hunt is necessary for population control. That has been a theme of the bear hunt issue. Neither side gives an inch. That is something else they have in common.

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"NJN is scheduled to air the video on Monday, July 25, at 9 p.m. and to follow it with a panel discussion taped this past Tuesday."

I remember NJN did a call-in show about the "Deer Problem". They had some idiot who claimed to be unaffiliated with animal rights orgs and everytime a hunter called he quickly lambasted them as 'red-neck killers' and that deer were giving birth to triplets as a result of hunting pressure..... FOOEY! What a fraud. He kept saying that birth control was the only solution. (cover blown)[mad]

I tried calling this clown but it seemed that NJN couldn't keep up with the call volume.

I hope there is balance - because the animal rightistas are severely and chemically imbalanced.
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