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Of deer, bears and animal lovers
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
northjersey.com
By JAMES AHEARN


BETTER LATE than never. The New Jersey Audubon Society has belatedly acknowledged that the state is overrun by white-tailed deer, that they are destroying native wooded environments, and that an effective solution has to include killing many of them.

In fact, the society goes the state Fish and Wildlife guys one better in its new-found enthusiasm for "lethal control." The society says the state's experts still worry too much about keeping the deer herd big enough so hunters have animals to shoot.

Enough already, say the bird watchers, in a comprehensive, 21-page white paper. The time has come, they say, for the state to concentrate on what these lean, mean eating machines do to the landscape.

They are wrecking it, the Audubon Society says. They are turning rich native forests into wastelands in which the only flora that flourish are invasive species like Japanese barberry and purple loosestrife, at which even deer draw the line.

The society is particularly keen on controlled sharpshooter hunts in previously closed areas and in urban and suburban parks, proving that there is no enthusiasm so fervent as that of the newly converted.

In a cautionary note, the society adds, "Direct costs for controlled hunts are minimal, but indirect costs rise from needs to minimize conflicts with those attempting to disrupt the hunt." These costs run from a low of $45 per "animal removed" to a high of - hold onto your hats - $622. The society's sources of information range from the Columbus and Franklin County Park District in Ohio to Watchung Reservation in New Jersey.

The society comments, hopefully, that these costs can be expected to decline as the years go by and hunt protesters find other things to do. The white paper, "Forest Health and Ecological Integrity: Stressors and Solutions," is available on the society's Internet site, njaudubon.org.

The document (note that the title does not include the emotion-generating word "deer") provides a cost figure for the hunt undertaken by hired sharpshooters three years ago in Princeton, in which 322 deer were "harvested." That figure was $343 per animal, which works out to a total of $110,446, in just one community. That ain't chicken feed, my friends, nor deer feed either.

Bears have buddies on Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court issued an emergency order a week after Thanksgiving to block an imminent black bear hunt. At the time, the court provided only a sketchy summary of its reasoning. Two weeks ago it released a formal, unanimous opinion.

You may recall the context. The Fish and Game Council, which sets the rules for fishing and hunting, had scheduled a six-day bear hunt. It would have been the second in two years, after three decades in which the animals, at one time close to extinction in New Jersey, had not been hunted.

They are thriving now, especially in Northwest Jersey, multiplying and getting into trouble, killing lambs and goats and pets, chomping through corn fields, rummaging through Dumpsters, ripping screens off porches to get at bags of bird feed.

Only one person, a man, has been seriously injured by a bear recently in New Jersey, and he was partly responsible. The bear was mauling his dog, the owner jumped on the bear's back, and the bear fought back. The owner recovered. The next encounter may not turn out so well.

Nevertheless, the state commissioner of environmental protection, Bradley Campbell, who had supported the first bear hunt in 2003, opposed the second. His change of heart seems to have been prompted at least in part by television coverage of the first one, which resulted in 328 dead bears, heads lolling in pick-up trucks. Campbell refused to issue a new round of bear permits.

The court sided with Campbell, in a somewhat confusing opinion that seemed to suggest that no hunting licenses of any sort could be issued until the Fish and Game Council drafted new, comprehensive policies covering all species. That is not how the commissioner read the decision however. He read it as requiring a rationale for a hunt only when he and the council differed, and they do not differ on, for example, the need for a deer season.

They do differ on a bear hunt however, and the council is getting ready to explain why one is needed. That document is said to be nearly finished. We'll have to see what it says, and see how the commissioner responds.

James Ahearn is a contributing editor and former managing editor of The Record. Send comments about this column to [email protected]
 
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