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The necessary bear hunt
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
BY EDITORIAL trenton times

Bears are wild animals. They can be dangerous to humans. Their population is growing. None of that is their fault, but it's not the fault of New Jersey residents who are affected by that population boom, either. Good sense and good governance have led the state to institute a comprehensive program to reduce the number of bears in New Jersey, and part of that program is a controlled bear hunt. The hunt, the second in three years, began in the northwest quadrant yesterday and will continue through Saturday.

Animal lovers whose sentimentality trumps their realism tried to stop the hunt in court, as they did last year, when the state Supreme Court halted a proposed six-day December hunt authorized by the state Fish and Game Council. The court ruled at that time that the state lacked a broader management policy, with goals and procedures for maintaining an acceptable number of bears.

That deficiency has been remedied. Besides the hunts, the state's policy includes provisions calling for improved trash control, public education about bears and expanded scientific research on contraception and other population management approaches. The New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance and other plaintiffs insist that measures such as these are sufficient, but clearly they aren't. Last Friday, both the Appellate Division of Superior Court and the Supreme Court cleared the way for this year's hunt and annual hunts for the next four years.

It has been estimated that from 1,600 to 3,200 black bears live in the hunt zone, although bears have been seen in all 21 counties. "As the ... population has expanded, incidents involving risks to public safety and property, which subsided after the 2003 hunt, have increased significantly," Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell wrote recently. "Moreover, excess population in areas of suitable black bear habitat has led to increasing black bear migration to areas of the state where little suitable habitat exists and where risks to populous communities are consequently greater."

Within the past year, in Sussex County, a mother with an infant under her arm had to run to rescue her 3-year-old son from a 200-pound bear that was closing in on him; a 500-pound bear crawled under electrified fencing and over a 4 1/2-foot-high ranch fence to kill and devour a miniature horse; and a 142-pound female bear bit the leg of a sleeping camper at High Point State Park. In Egg Harbor City, far across the state, a 150-pound bear rummaged through garbage cans, ate from bird feeders and jumped a fence a block from an elementary school. Bears have wandered into houses and business places in various parts of New Jersey. In other states, bears have killed children and even adults. New Jersey must make certain it doesn't happen here.

Some 5,000 persons are expected to take part in the hunt. They must use only shotguns or rifles, and no hunter may bag more than one bear. Killed bears must be taken to a state-run checkpoint for recording. Each night state officials will analyze data and can stop the hunt early if they believe enough bears have been killed to satisfy the management plan, which aims to reduce the number of bears in the area to the estimated 2002 level of 1,317 animals.

To many people, hunting is an unattractive and even inexplicable pastime. Under these circumstances, however, it's a necessary one.
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