Hunt panel's new boss gets a baptism of fire
Controversial Codey appointee to oversee Fish and Game Council's bear-plan hearing
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
BY BRIAN T. MURRAY
The newest member of New Jersey's Fish and Game Council was appointed yesterday to chair the group, and his first official act will come tonight when he oversees what is likely to be a raucous hearing on a proposed new bear hunt.
"I'm as ready as anyone would be," said Ernie Hahn, a former assistant commissioner with the state Department of Environmental Protection who joined the council last month and was appointed chairman by acting Gov. Richard Codey. "While the people at these hearings may be more emotional, I've chaired hearings on land use development regulations that were just as heated."
Hahn, who has been with the DEP for 25 years, takes over as chairman from Scott Ellis. The appointment sparked criticism that the 11-member council, which oversees hunting regulations, was being politically manipulated a day before it was to hold one of its most contentious hearings of the year.
Tonight's hearing, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, promises to be especially contentious because DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell, who last year said a new bear hunt was unnecessary, now supports one.
Campbell endorsed the state's first bear hunt in 33 years in 2003, when hunters killed 328 bruins during a six-day season. Last year, he said another hunt was unnecessary.
At the time, Ellis said Campbell had met privately with council members and told them a hunt could not be approved because animal rights protesters would disrupt then-Gov. James McGreevey's re- election bid.
Hahn's appointment also has angered critics of Campbell, who nominated him and pushed for his appointment to the council -- a group Campbell clashed with last year when he opposed a bear hunt.
"It (Hahn's appointment) is Campbell showing everyone who's boss. He wants control of the council," said George Howard, a former councilman and past director of the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife. "For 50 years, the council has nominated its own chairman for approval by the governor, and we never had anyone who was just appointed to the council become the chairman. Hahn has attended one other meeting. It's unheard of."
Codey's office defended the appointment.
"Governor Codey believes Mr. Hahn is a natural and outstanding person for the chairmanship," said Sean Darcy, a spokesman for the governor.
For his part, Campbell disputed any rift.
"It's natural for Governor Codey to want one of his own appointees to chair the council, although Mr. Ellis has served the council honorably and well," he said. "In the course of working for the Division of Fish and Wildlife and the DEP in general, Mr. Hahn has sat on some of New Jersey's most controversial environmental issues."
Ellis could not be reached for comment. His membership on the council expired in April, and he is waiting for Codey to nominate a replacement.
Hahn was appointed by Codey this year to replaced Morris County Freeholder Jack Schrier, who served for four years and was an outspoken opponent of a bear hunt.