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Friends of Animals' Response to New Jersey's Draft Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy

Bradley M. Campbell, Commissioner
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
401 East State Street
7th Floor, East Wing
P.O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625
October 5, 2005
Dear Commissioner Campbell:

Friends of Animals, a national animal advocacy organization with approximately 17,000 New Jersey members and supporters, strongly urges the Department of Environmental Protection to reject the proposed 2005 bear hunt, and to let waste management initiatives work.

The Draft Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy (CBBMP) is comprehensive in name only. The plan falls short of the requisites articulated by the Supreme Court of New Jersey and by the Department as to what constitutes meaningful, comprehensive policy. In defiance of the Court, the New Jersey Fish and Game Council (Council) has recycled a 1997 plan that remains light years away from the mandated document.

Notably, the Council defers most non-hunting portions of the plan, including important waste management initiatives, vague enabling legislation, and related funding and enforcement, to municipalities and the State Treasury. Most are to transpire at an unspecified date. Few of these features are a present reality, and few can be considered tangible contributions to a comprehensive plan as defined by the Court.

The Council equates population reduction, or the random killing of bears, with protecting human safety, and leaves unquestioned the presumption that the number of complaints, regardless of their genesis or severity, are the foundation upon which to base hunts.

Population Reduction vs. Waste Management, Education, Enforcement, and Complaints

Population Reduction

In 1992, when New Jersey black bears numbered some 450-550, the Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Council framed human-bear interactions and reduction of complaints as a result of bear “population reduction” — by hunting. In 1997, the Division and the Council termed the inarguably low number of bears “untenable” (CBBMP, at page 6).

The Council anticipates that lower numbers of bears per square mile will not necessarily lower complaints: “It the bear population reaches a certain lower density and these occurrences are still regular, the Council believes there will be reason to reduce the bear population further” (CBBMP, at 22). This implies that as long as there are complaints, however low the bear population, there will be hunting.

Associating Humans with Food

Human-bear interactions are the result of rapid human encroachment in bear habitat, and the correlating presence of food. The nexus between food and complaints was acknowledged in the Division’s 1997 Black Bear Management Plan: “McCullough (1982) notes that ‘restricting human food availability is the obvious and most important step toward solving bear problems because positive conditioning with food rewards is probably the strongest for of learning for bears.’” And: “The black bear has shown an ability to adapt to living in very close proximity to humans. Most black bears are very tolerant of people. A bear that is fed or given access to garbage or other human food, associates the sight and smell of people with food. Bears that are both used to people and feed on or are fed human food have been associated with a number of humane injuries.”

Bird feeders are the third most cited reason for complaints, after garbage and “nuisance” sightings. With reasonable levels of compliance, bear-proofing programs work. The key to living with bears is removal of unnatural food sources. Simply put, hunting will not keep surviving bears out of people’s yards if the bears associate people with food.

Waste Disposal

Preventing or reversing food-conditioning requires organized waste management programs near populated areas. A successful bear-proofing program would adapt, and constantly reinforce, at least some elements of the common sense approach used elsewhere. Yosemite National Park, for example, has reduced human-bear interactions by 81 percent in five years (as of August 2005) by managing trash disposal, use of bear-proof containers and canisters, educating visitors, and, when necessary, aversive conditioning. All in the absence of hunting. Alaska’s Denali National Park and other national parks employ successful bear-proofing, education, and aversive conditioning.

The universal importance of waste disposal and good housekeeping, at Yosemite, near Waywanda State Park, or where people have dogs, cannot be overstated. Availability of not just food, but paper bags, even tossed-out soap, attracts bears, especially after a drought, when natural foods are scarce. Feeding at dumpsters and in garbage, no matter the topography or demographics, causes bears to lose their natural fear of humans.

In British Columbia, the “Bear Smart” educational program focuses on a multi-media approach. Homeowners are advised to not allow bears to feel comfortable in their backyards, remain calm when or if a bear approaches, to call authorities only under the appropriate circumstances (i.e., not when a bear is just walking through the backyard); not to feed birds at bird feeders from May until November, and to feed pets indoors. The Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Society reports: “As a result of programs initiated by JJWBS, the number of human-bear conflicts and the number of so-called problem bears destroyed in Whistler has dropped significantly (by about 75%).”

“Be Bear Aware,” another program in British Columbia, assessed how many garbage cans were placed curbside on the night before collection day, then placed large, “garbage kills” stickers on cans. “Be Bear Aware” ultimately determined a 50% reduction in the number of cans placed curbside. In Kamloops, south central British Columbia, a test area was set in a neighborhood where residents were prevented by bylaw from putting their garbage out. A survey of cans placed curbside was mapped on GIS with the locations of bear-human conflicts as reported by officials. A results map showed that there were “very few bear complaints in the test area, while complaints were greatly increased in those areas where there was no bylaw.” The “Be Bear Aware” program then ran out of funding.

In New Jersey, areas to target include front country and fringe area dumpsters at food outlets, construction sites, and parks, from which bears can fan out into surrounding developments. This should be combined with increased trash containment patrols and enforcement during peak season—patrolling with prevention, not reaction, as a priority. It involves establishing goals such as reducing the number of incidents by a measurable percentage within designated front country parks, neighborhoods or townships, within a stipulated period of time, and expressly targeting those areas for on-scene educational efforts, in addition to appropriate distribution of literature. Most importantly, communities must adhere to the state feeding ban and pursue mandatory residential use of bear-proof containers in all affected areas. Enhancing residents’ access to bear-proof bins, several models of which are already available, must become the safety priority.

An Ounce of Prevention

Enforcement of waste disposal laws and ordinances will appreciably reduce both the number of bear complaints, and the time spent by local officers responding to those complaints.

Complaints and Perspective

Climate

The Council ascribes a reduction in 2004 bear complaints to the 2003 hunt. (CBBMP at 21); but this contradicts similar studies elsewhere. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources reports that following cancellation of the spring bear hunt, “[T]he committee’s report found no scientific connection between cancellation of the spring bear hunt and increases in bear activity. Instead, the report concluded that nuisance bear activity is linked to the availability of food and climate conditions.”

Orphaned Cubs

The 2003 New Jersey hunt left many cubs orphaned. According to the Government of the Northwest Territories, maternal loss can translate into foraging through garbage: ‘Young bears are extremely vulnerable during their first year alone and mortality is high. Without the protection of their mother, yearlings are susceptible to the attacks of large male bears, and with their lack of foraging experience they are easily attracted by food at dumps and campsites, and may end up being shot as ‘nuisance bears.’”

The Ebb and Flow of Complaints

In New Jersey, variations in state-logged complaints occurred in the years prior to the 2003 New Jersey hunt. Nuisance complaints went from 468 in 1999, 483 in 2000, down to 357 in 2001, back up to 525 in 2002, back down to 357 in 2003, prior to any hunt. Garbage complaints dropped from 496 in 1999 to 290 in 2000, down to 269 in 2001 and up to 379 in 2002 and 503 in 2003.

The ebb and flow may have been influenced by local educational efforts undertaken by bear advocates, by education of local officials and responders, and even by negative press.

Weighing Complaints: When Does Human Carelessness Count?

The Division of Fish and Wildlife’s on-line “sighting-incident” form encourages people to contact the Division to “tell our biologists about any bear you have seen.” There is no filter to weed out simple human carelessness.

Nuisance and Garbage

In New Jersey, the overwhelming majority of black bear complaints are attributed to “nuisance” and “garbage.” (CBBMP, at 34.) Of the total 756 complaints logged by the state in 2004, 511 were nuisance or garbage related. There were 282 garbage complaints; in 229 cases, bears were deemed nuisances. Neither constitutes a lethal infraction. Garbage complaints can be strongly mitigated by proper disposal techniques; “nuisance” is subjective, and often related to garbage or bird feeders, and where education is essential.

The Council states that “[T]he data from the 2003 hunting season has proven that hunting can alleviate damage and nuisance incidents caused by problem bears," alluding to 10 “nuisance” bears killed during the 2003 shoot. The Council further cites a “37.5% reduction” in damage and nuisance calls. Waste management and education can achieve the same or higher results, without killing.

With no scientific basis, the Council says that “hunting is also used as a tool to reinforce the aversive conditioning methods employed by the DFW and trained law enforcement officers.” The point of aversive conditioning, understood in its best light, would be avoid killing.

Public Safety and Hunting-Related Complaints

The Division of Fish and Wildlife posts bear complaint charts on its website and actively publicizes the statistics. The agency does not post, or in any way publicize, a similar incident chart for hunter-generated complaints. Incidents include trespassing, shooting into houses, and at cars. Friends of Animals has filed an Open Public Records Act request for the total number, and nature, of hunter-related incidents, on a monthly/yearly basis. Because the proposed hunt is premised on human safety, the data is germane and needs analysis now, not after the lethal proposals are enacted.

In New York, where bears are hunted, bear hunters kill and injure more people than bears do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (1996), from 1989-1995, a total of 508 hunting-associated firearm injuries were reported to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Of 508 injuries, 39 (8%) were fatal, 152 (30%) involved one person, and 356 (70%) involved two persons (rate: 6.9). Of the 39 fatal injuries, 31 (79%) were two-party incidents. Among two-party injuries, big-game (e.g., deer and bear) hunters accounted for 135 (38%) injuries, including 25 (81%) fatalities.”

Friends of Animals Comments: New Jersey Supreme Court; Commissioner Campbell’s March 5, 2004 Letter

In order to place the proposed policy in context, it is necessary to revisit the Commissioner’s March 5, 2004 letter to the Fish and Game Council, the Supreme Court’s December 2, 2004 order, and the Court’s subsequent February 28, 2004 opinion.

U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance v. N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (A-69-2004): Comprehensive Policy

December 2, 2004 Supreme Court Order

On December 2, 2004, the Supreme Court entered an order enjoining the December bear hunt approved by the Fish and Game Council. The order stemmed from an appeal in a dispute between the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Game Council on the propriety of a 2004 bear hunt.

The Commissioner’s Letter

The basis for the dispute was outlined in a March 5, 2004 letter from Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell to W. Scott Ellis, chair of the Fish and Game Council. In part, the commissioner wrote that his support for the controversial 2003 bear hunt was premised on a number of factors, including: “independently reviewed data establishing a rapidly expanding population, commitment to a comprehensive management strategy that includes education, feeding ban enforcement and immunocontraception; and demonstration of an increasing public safety threat. Reviewing these factors and commitments today, I do not believe that they support inclusion of a black bear hunt in the game code at this time.” The Commissioner ultimately decided to withhold issuance of permits for the hunt. The decision was challenged by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.

Population Data

The Commissioner emphasized that the Division of Fish and Wildlife had supplied inaccurate population data prior to the 2004 bear hunt. Based on asserted scientific research, Division estimates were twice the number of later estimates:

Population Data. At the time of the Council’s adoption of the Game Code last year, the Fish and Wildlife Division presented black bear population estimates to the Council of approximately 3,200 animals. The most recent estimate by our black bear biologists presents an estimate of less than half that number. Thus, while the hunt accounted for the killing of 328 bears, this reduction must be considered in light of the better data developed as a result of the hunt, which document a population more than fifty percent smaller than assumed at the time of game code adoption last year. In my discussions with Fish and Wildlife Division biologists, the biologists suggested that, among other factors accounting for the change in population estimate, dispersal of bears to Pennsylvania and New York may be stabilizing the population at far lower numbers than previously thought.

While I fully agree with our biologists’ conclusion that even the revised estimate documents a “huntable” population – i.e. a population that can be hunted without endangering the viability or long-term population of bears in New Jersey, the substantial difference in population estimates between this year and last militates against inclusion of a bear hunt in the code at this time. The data does not currently document the rapidly expanding population supposed at the time of the last game code adoption.

Friends of Animals’ response:

The 2005 bear plan presents no credible arguments to invalidate the Commissioner’s March 5 letter.

The Council plan itself is vague, perhaps evasive, regarding current population estimates. The plan does not openly contradict the discredited 1,600 – 3,200 figure (CBBMP, at 6); a graph shows a projection of 1,600 bears in 2005 (CBBMP, at 32). The Council concludes that the “most recent population analysis and the results of the 2003 black bear hunting season indicate that the current bear population can support an additional hunting season.” The Division’s 2004 “Black Bear in New Jersey Status Report” is an amalgam of three different sampling techniques, adjustments, and outside review and places the number of bears in research areas at 1,490.

Despite the chasm between 1,600 and 3,200 bears, the Division and the Council prescribe a 2005 hunt identical to the 2003 hunt, when the number of bears was inaccurately estimated at 3,200. For hunts in 2006 and beyond, the Council argues for both earlier and expanded hunts and methods of kill, including bow hunting, by which animals die from hemorrhage, and muzzle-loader rifle. There is no remotely scientific explanation for the proposal. The constant here is not sound bear biology, but hunter participation. Even if there were 3,200 bears, this plan would not be merited and does not address the nexus of human-bear interaction: food.

Moreover, the CBBMP advances no scientific bases for disputing the Commissioner’s 2004 finding that “[T]he data does not currently document the rapidly expanding population supposed at the time of the last game code adoption.” (Emphasis ours.)

Comprehensive Management Strategy

In 2004, the Commissioner was unambiguous in describing the fiscal tension between non-lethal policy—the need to enforce extant feeding bans, education and alternatives – and the expense, in staff and resources, of mounting bear hunts:

In supporting last year’s hunt, I publicly committed to ensuring that the hunt would not be our exclusive tool for managing the bear population and protecting public safety. Yet, administration of the hunt in the context of substantial public controversy severely limits the staff time and resources available for public education, bear feeding-ban enforcement, and development of immunocontraceptive alternatives. Our efforts in these latter areas were curtailed during the pendency of the hunt. I believe we need to show substantial additional progress in each of these areas before considering another black bear hunt.

Friends of Animals’ response:

There has been no Department progress in enforcing the state bear feeding statute. The only long-term, effective and socially acceptable means of living with bears is managing human trash. Problems develop when bears associate humans with food. Hunting will do nothing to lessen surviving bears’ attraction to trash, or to address the nexus of the problem: food.

Under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, Friends of Animals requested “any and all summonses and penalty enforcement actions” issued by the Department of Environmental Protection pursuant to C.23:2A-14, “prohibiting the intentional feeding of black bears.” From the statute’s 2003 effective date to August 22, 2005, the Division of Fish and Wildlife issued two summonses and six warnings.

The statute prohibits storing “pet food, garbage or other bear attractants in a manner that will result in bear feedings when black bears are known to frequent the area,” and intentionally feeding bears. In the 2005 CBBMP plan, the Council asserts that the “intentional” aspect of the statute is ambiguous, and unenforceable. An exemption for baiting deer was inserted in the law in the interests of hunters, is in fact problematic, and should be removed.

Division of Fish and Wildlife enforcement
DateTownWarningSummons
2003
4-26-03Vernon (Sussex)X 
10-27-03Vernon (Sussex) X
8-26-03Oxford Twp. (Warren)X 
2004
2-20-04Montague (Sussex)X 
8-29-04Vernon (Sussex)X 
2005
5-22-05Jefferson {Morris)X 
6-16-05Jefferson {Morris) X
6-25-05Kinnelon {Morris)X 

On June 17, 2005, the Commissioner advised: “[O]ne of the best ways to discourage nuisance bears is by storing garbage properly.” A feeding ban, however, is only as good as the enforcement. Friends of Animals recommends the expansion of current State trash management initiatives to provide residents access to bear-proof trash bins.

Unfortunately, the Council acknowledges that “bear-resistant dumpsters have not yet been installed in all public campgrounds within black bear range” (CBBMP, at 5).

The proposed 2005 bear hunt should be defeated. By any meaningful standard, the Department has not enforced the feeding ban, nor have trash management initiatives been allowed to work.

Community Support

Community interest in bear-proofing is strong. On July 14, 2005, Sussex County forwarded to the Commissioner’s office a resolution requesting “funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection under the Livable Communities Grant for black-bear-proof garbage can pilot program for the residents of Sussex County.”

On its own, Hardyston Township in Sussex County initiated distribution of bear-proof trash bins, utilizing Clean Community funds. Over 571 residents requested the cans. Residents from outside the township have requested bins, but are ineligible to receive them.

The Sussex program merits funding, and should be allowed to work.

We appreciate the Commissioner’s effort in West Milford, which received a $200,000 Clean Communities grant from the state to purchase the heavy-duty cans with screw-on lids. But the cans won’t be distributed until autumn — and only to residents in six communities.

There is no time to show “additional substantial progress” in waste management programs before the proposed 2005 hunt begins. Communities want the bear-proof bins now.

To determine the effectiveness of bear-proof cans, the Department has made "control communities" of the northern section of Upper Greenwood Lake, West Milford Lake, Lindy’s Lake, High Crest Lake and Hi Lo Acres. The Department could confirm the effectiveness of these cans by letting them work in all affected townships. And the bear shoot itself is not limited to a “control” area.

Townships should not be denied access to the single most effective, ethical, and socially responsible means of reducing food-conditioning, while funds are advanced to mount a 2005 hunt. The $200,000 grant should be implemented along with educational and prevention initiatives—including a strong emphasis on proper disposal methods at food outlets, parks, and construction sites, anchored by diligent enforcement – again, in all affected communities.

The Commissioner has said: “We all need to play a part in reducing the risk of bear encounters. The place that effort should start is at the trash can.”

We agree. Another hunt is not called for.

Friends of Animals’ response:

It is no surprise that the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the New York Department of Environmental Protection have urged the Department to implement an annual bear hunting season. Based on a statutory scheme created by gun manufacturers in 1937, state wildlife agencies are funded by federal excise taxes on guns, ammunition and equipment. In turn, states are not eligible for distribution of revenues unless funds from hunting, trapping and fishing licenses are used for hunting purposes.

In its plan, the Council fails completely to take into account the depth of the controversy ignited by the recreational killing of New Jersey’s black bears.

The Council says “It is important that the black bear remains a public asset rather than a costly liability to the citizens of the state (CBBMP, at 5).” It is the pursuit of bear hunting that has cost the state, in revenues that could otherwise be used for constructive waste management programs.

Wildlife Technician Winthrop Staples, who has for three successive years worked at Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve with minimizing bear-human conflicts and who is familiar with the Park’s highly successful bear management policy, wrote to Friends of Animals:

The apparent slow pace of getting bear resistant containers in widespread use in New Jersey is practically and morally very disturbing. In plain language someone is liable to be killed by a bear because the NJ political class is too timid to mandate bear proof containers. It seems that at this point in our history the American public are very disappointed in the slow response of government to address issues like this. This would be an opportune time for public servants to display some strong leadership by insisting on citizen discipline regarding safeguarding of human food in New Jersey. Even every household could have a few bear-proof trash cans for the price of a cheap TV set. This does not sound like too much to ask of responsible citizens.

On August 11, 2005, The Herald News, from the heart of bear country, editorialized:

Aside from the sheer cruelty of killing hundreds of bears, a hunt will do nothing to stop the survivors from invading backyards in search of food.

Educating people about how to avoid attracting bears - and scare them off safely - would do that.

In June, Campbell announced a program to distribute 1,525 bear-proof garbage cans to West Milford residents by the fall. But the hunt was approved before the pilot program could be completed and the results analyzed.

New Jersey should respond to the presence of free-living black bears in a progressive way that respects bears and humans alike.

Sincerely,

Priscilla Feral
President

References

  1. County of Sussex, Board of Chosen Freeholders, Resolution (13 Jul. 2005).
  2. D.R. McCullough, “Behavior, bear and humans,” Wild. Soc. Bull. 10:27-33 (1982) in Patricia McConnell et al, Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, Black Bear Management Plan (Jul. 1997).
  3. Meridith I. Gore, “Comparison of Invention Programs Designed to Reduce Human-Bear Conflict: A review of Literature,” HDRU Series No. 04-4 (Mar. 2002), at 22.
  4. New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, “Wildlife Education Resources for Teachers,” available online (last updated 1 Sep. 2005).
  5. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, “DEP Announces Program to Manage Bear Complaints” (17 Jun. 2005).
  6. Northwest Territories Wildlife Division, “Black Bear Reproduction”(updated 13 Sept. 2005).
  7. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Press Release (17 Dec. 2003).
  8. “Bear-proof garbage cans to be tested in West Milford,” New Jersey Record (18 Jun. 2005).
  9. “Learning to Live with Bears is Best Solution” Herald News, NorthJersey.com (11 Aug. 2005).
  10. Winthrop Staples, “Re: Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy” (electronic correspondence on file with Friends of Animals, Inc.; 17 Sep. 2005).