The Bear Hunt and Required Reforms

By SUSAN RUSSELL

 Governor Christie and the hunters’ PAC caught swapping bears for votes now feign a higher purpose:   ecological “soundness,  and public safety.

 The PAC has lobbied for decreased home safety buffers for razor-tipped arrows—a law the Star Ledger described as a “needless gamble with public safety,” and that Christie signed.  

 The governor propounds good government, transparency, and election law reform.  Yet in two separate instances, Chris Christie has attended fundraisers and events as a “special guest” who spoke on “issues,” while hosts skirted election laws. 

Candidate Christie offered his “base” a bear hunt:

“You know what Gov. Christie’s answer to the bear issue is?”

“Shoot ‘em!” yelled a voice in the crowd.

“We’re going to have a bear hunt in New Jersey!” Doherty shouted to sustained cheers.  (politicker.com)

Readers will note the absence of ecological and public safety imperatives.   “Excited” hunters from other states, including Alaska, are coming to New Jersey to kill our bears.

The stone wall that prevents an environmentally literate, modern wildlife policy is the Division of Fish and Wildlife, an outdated Trenton bureau partnered with the Archery Trade Association, staffed by hunting activists, and at the service of the game council.  Often mistakenly termed “environmental regulators” in the press, game agencies and councils were in fact established to propagate game species and to promote hunting.   The names of the agencies may have changed; the purpose has not.

The bear hunt is a detriment to genuine public safety concerns. Former Governor Jon Corzine was not anti-hunting.   But his staff did its homework: non-lethal bear co-existence programs in the United States and Canada work; the success rates hover at 70-80%, and are far superior to random, recreational shooting.  In the seven years during which Pennsylvania killed the most bears, complaints sky-rocketed and bears ranged widely, resulting in an intensified slaughter.   On December 5, the council said to expect an annual bear hunt. 

Despite Governor Corzine’s persistent prodding, and the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars designated for non-lethal  purposes, DFW managed to keep a bona fide, co-existence program at bay.

DFW printed thousands of educational flyers, trained state police and other officers, and conducted a non-lethal test program, parts of which it deemed “ineffective.” Yet the basic requisites of any bear smart program remained energetically unmet: uniform local ordinances requiring bear-resistant garbage containers and dumpsters, setting trash cans out in the morning, and enforcement. With an appropriation of $625,000 to enforce the bear feeding ban and non-lethal efforts, the agency wrote only nine summonses.  DFW’s bear biologist, hunter Patrick Carr, told Field and Stream that he would use the time to develop the case for a bear hunt. 

The New Jersey Sierra Club notes that one of Governor Christie’s first acts, after placing the PAC’s leader on his Environmental Protection transition team, was to de-fund the non-lethal black bear budget.

There is no evidence that the black bear is biologically overpopulated.    The bear is recovering from the agency’s so-called sound scientific management— read hunting—that brought this remarkable species to the brink of extirpation.  

In 1992, when New Jersey black bears numbered, at most, 450-550, the game council chomped at the bit, and urged “population reduction”—by hunting. In 1997, the Division and the Council termed the inarguably low number of bears “untenable.”

DFW refuses to halt hunters’ widespread corn-baiting for deer, which draws bears toward populated areas, and provides an unnatural food source that, in conjunction with unfettered trash, can lead to higher breeding rates.

Why are the humans who live in bear country denied a serious non-lethal program?   DFW’s clients and trade partners consider successful non-lethal programs an existential threat.

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, the national hunters’ lobby, called Maryland’s Non-Lethal Wildlife Task Force “virtually an act of war against Maryland’s sportsman [sic]-conservationists.”

The New Jersey Appellate Court noted that hunt opponents had had ample opportunity to present their concerns—to the New Jersey Fish and Game Council, which embodies the above mind-set. 

Six of the council’s 11 members “must be” hunters; the council nominates the director of DFW. The former DFW director headed a hunting federation that lobbied for the bear hunt.

As DFW installs hunting and crossbows in the suburbs, in our backyards, needed reform means severing ties with archery and ammo companies, hiring mammalogists and actual biologists instead of game managers, and a council that represents the state’s population and homeowners’ growing concerns.  New Jersey wildlife watchers outnumber hunters 20-to-1 and outspend hunters 5-to-1.   The small number of New Jersey hunters (a fraction of 1%) is in decline.

The Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), whose board consists of weapons and ammo manufacturers, “reviews” New Jersey programs, and boasts of influencing state wildlife policy, “out of the limelight.”  

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, an umbrella association that co-mingles state wildlife agency regulators and trade groups,  pools resources and personnel and executes the  shared agenda, ammo and license sales, through a nationwide focus on gaining hunter access to private and public lands, creating more “opportunities” (in this case, bears), and methods of kill. 

The statutory scheme is the functional equivalent of awarding the Tobacco Institute the controlling interest in National Institutes of Health policy and dispersal of NIH grants.

Among the photos from the PAC’s Christie rally is a shot of Larry Herrighty, assistant operating director for DFW, with a role in bear policy.   Along with other state hunting regulators, Herrighty had also contributed money to the PAC, which lobbies for expanded hunting opportunities.  Last year, Herrighty told the press that legalizing crossbows would bring his agency 12,000 new customers.   That is wildlife management, and it has little to do with “sound” science.

Fifty-two percent of bears killed in 2005 were cubs and yearlings.  The targets were deep-woods bears who had harmed no one.  In several cases, groups of shooters killed sows and their cubs   Hunters bait the animals with jelly doughnuts, corn, and maple syrup. 

In 2003, a dying cub stopped traffic; drivers pulled over, along the highway, and people wept.   “We should apologize to the bears,” said a by-stander.

 Last week, Chris Christie dismissed protestors’ concerns as “laughable.”   So is the Christie pretense of reform, and, apparently, class.

Black bears have never killed nor injured a human in New Jersey. To our state’s collective discredit, especially our governor’s, the needless and counter-productive killing of black bears will begin on Monday, December 6. 

Susan Russell, lobbyist and campaign director for New Jersey laws banning steel-jaw traps and the wild bird trade, is a wildlife consultant for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey and the Bear Education and Resource Group.

 

The Bear Hunt and Required Reforms