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Saturday, February 26, 2005


The state Supreme Court is expected to deliver a key ruling on Monday that should go a long way toward deciding who has the power to regulate hunting in New Jersey.

The top court will decide whether Environmental Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell can refuse to issue hunting permits once the state Fish and Game Council has authorized a hunt - as he did last fall, when he sought to block New Jersey's second consecutive bear hunt since 1970.

Should Campbell prevail, then he would gain veto authority over the 11-member Fish and Game Council, a governor-appointed volunteer body which has had unchecked power over hunting in New Jersey since the state constitution was adopted in 1948.

Citing increasing numbers of incursions by the state's black bears into residential communities, the council authorized the first hunt in 2003. Campbell reluctantly went along, citing the physical threat posed by the bear incursions. Hunters killed 328 black bears in the first bear hunt, held in December 2003, but Campbell felt the state afterward should explore non-lethal methods of population control. The Fish and Game Council, however, refused to heed Campbell's recommendation and in 2004 voted to hold a second bear hunt.

Campbell responded by refusing to issue bear permits, which triggered a lawsuit by a national hunters' group, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which on Dec. 2 stopped the bear hunt from going forward.

In its ruling, the top court left alone the issue of whether Campbell had the power to refuse to issue permits. Instead, the justices noted that New Jersey hadn't updated its Bear Management Plan since it was adopted in 1997 - and therefore couldn't justify a hunt without having more current data on population estimates.

The Supreme Court ruling comes just weeks before the March meeting of the Fish and Game Council, at which proposed changes to the game code are discussed. It's at the March meeting that the council usually votes on whether to authorize a bear hunt.

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