More Bears Killed in New Jersey Hunt

Total of 472 are taken in effort to control population; ‘barbaric,’ says activist

New Jersey officials examine the body of a black bear at a weigh station in Newton this weekend. The hunt has now been extended.ENLARGE
New Jersey officials examine the body of a black bear at a weigh station in Newton this weekend. The hunt has now been extended. PHOTO: BRYAN ANSELM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

NEWTON, N.J.—Hunters killed 472 bears in New Jersey last week, hundreds more than were taken last year, in an annual hunt that authorities hope will curb the state’s black bear population but animal-rights activists decry as inhumane.

By Saturday, hunters had killed an estimated 18% of the bear population, and state officials extended the hunt by four days. Hunting will continue this week, Wednesday through Saturday.

State environmental officials turned to bear hunts five years ago in an attempt to control northwestern New Jersey’s black bear population, which has swelled to an estimated 3,500 bears today compared with fewer than 100 in the 1970s, state environmental officials said.

The region’s large forests are ideal habitats for black bears and allow females to produce larger litters compared with other parts of the U.S., state biologists said.

New Jersey hunters nabbed 592 black bears during the first hunt in 2010, but by last year the number of bears killed had fallen to 272. The bear population has remained level in recent years, but the goal of the hunt is to decrease their overall numbers, according to Al Ivany of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Black bears were weighed after a hunt at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area in Newton, N.J., on Saturday. ENLARGE
Black bears were weighed after a hunt at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area in Newton, N.J., on Saturday. PHOTO: BRYAN ANSELM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In an effort to rekindle hunter interest, the DEP expanded the area for this year’s hunt to 1,600 square miles across eight counties from 1,000 square miles and gave the state the option of extending the event to 10 days from six. State officials had hoped hunters would kill about 20% of the estimated bear population.

“We’re just trying to balance out the black bears in New Jersey with the amount of available habitat and minimize the amount of negative interactions between bears and people,” Mr. Ivany said.

Hunters applied for 8,500 permits for this year’s hunt. State officials said the expanded hunt and last week’s mild weather likely boosted hunters’ interest.

It also prompted protests.

“Murderers!” Newton resident Jerome Mandel yelled at hunters entering the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area here on Dec. 7 to have their bear carcasses weighed and examined by state biologists. Mr. Mandel was one of dozens of animal-rights activists who protested the hunt.

The event brought out people protesting the state-sanctioned hunt.ENLARGE
The event brought out people protesting the state-sanctioned hunt. PHOTO: BRYAN ANSELM FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“My whole life is dedicated to animals,” said Mr. Mandel, a 70-year-old retired high-school science teacher who said he opposes all forms of hunting and trapping as well as circuses and zoos. “It’s a barbaric activity,” he said, referring to bear hunting. “They’re beautiful, magnificent animals.”

Joseph Prohaska has hunted before in New Jersey but said he killed his first bear in the state last week. He called a friend to help him push and pull the 300-pound male into the bed of his pickup truck, leaving the truck’s white paint smeared with blood. He said he planned to eat the bear meat and bring the hide to a taxidermist.

Mr. Prohaska, 50 years old and a Union Beach resident, said cold and rainy weather in previous years made hunting difficult.

“I think because of the weather some [bears] might have denned up because it was cold,” he said.

Longtime hunter Marc Beardslee, a 41-year-old resident of Vernon, N.J., shot a 164-pound male bear from a tree stand in Sparta, N.J., early one morning last week. He said he has participated in every New Jersey hunt since 2010 and bagged three bears in total, using the meat for homemade jerky, chili and stew.

“It’s not about shooting; it’s about enjoying the outdoors,” Mr. Beardslee said. “I’m not a trophy hunter. I believe in harvesting the bear and feeding my family with it.”

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Mr. Beardslee and Mr. Prohaska defended hunting as a way to help control the region’s bear population. Bears eat crops, cause traffic accidents and frighten residents, they said.

Last year, there were 2,836 bear sightings and nuisance reports in New Jersey, a 52% increase from 2013, according to state records. Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 20 of this year, sighting and nuisance calls have fallen 24% compared with the same period last year.

Concerns about bears rose last year after a bear attacked and killed a Rutgers University student who was hiking with friends in the Apshawa Preserve in West Milford.

Animal-rights activists said hunting isn’t the solution. Bears will stay out of neighborhoods if people properly secure their trash, birdseed and other food that attracts them, said Angi Metler, executive director of the Bear Education and Resource Program of New Jersey.

During the hunt, animal-rights activists have been hiking the trails in the hunting zone in the hopes that their presence would scare bears away from potential hunters.

“We’re here to bear witness and to also protest this travesty,” Ms. Metler said.

In addition to expanding last week’s hunt, the state has also added a second six-day hunt beginning next October. Hunters will be allowed to use archery equipment and kill two black bears each year instead of one.

Mr. Prohaska said he plans to participate in next October’s hunt, but Mr. Beardslee said he likely won’t because he doesn’t think his family could eat two bears in one seas