Friends of Animals is poised to pursue legal action to stop a New Jersey black bear trophy hunt that was reinstated yesterday by the state’s Fish and Game Council during a public meeting following Gov. Phil Murphy’s call for action.

The governor and council’s betrayal of black bears were blasted during the public comment period, yet the council ignored the publics’ concerns.

“When the funding of wildlife and critical habitat conservation is in the hands of trophy hunters who want to kill bears so they can have a bear-skin rug in their house, wild animals will always have a target on their back,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “It is shameful that 600 of New Jersey’s black bears might be shot to death because the state’s so-called wildlife agency treats hunters as clients and the governor has caved to political pressure.”

FoA spoke out at the NJ Fish and Game Council

The emergency rulemaking that the council used circumvents standard procedures requiring appropriate notice of the action to the public and the opportunity for public comment on the proposals. By law it may be used only when the public is facing “imminent peril.”

“The Imminent Emergency Rule is a new political tactic used by fish-and-game agencies to circumvent public opposition, comment and input,” said Angi Metler of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, during the public comment period. “This is not an emergency.”

According to the state’s own records, between January and October of 2022 bear “attacks” on humans increased by one, bear “attacks” on domestic dogs increased by five, and vehicle injuries involving bear strikes increased by four compared to the same window of time in 2021.

“People are baiting bears with bird feeders and trash, and now hunters will bait them in the woods. That’s the real emergency you should be worried about,” said Nicole Rivard, government relations manager for Friends of Animals during the public comment period.

FoA has been in this fight for a lot longer than Murphy’s been in office, and we know the science doesn’t support hunting as a solution for incidents with black bears.

The governor claims that he’ll ground every difficult decision on the latest science and evidence, but if he understood the science or black bear behavior, he’d realize that killing bears will not keep NJ residents, or black bears, safe. Because killing some bears won’t do anything to educate the ones who survive a trophy hunt not to be opportunistic feeders.

Researchers in other states have found that hunts do not eliminate the bears who wildlife agencies have deemed “nuisance bears.” Based on 10 years of data, researchers in Wisconsin concluded that the bears killed by hunters were not the same bears who people complained about elsewhere.

In New Jersey, reports showed that bear activity actually increased in 2011 and 2014 when the state allowed bear hunting. And incidences of bears getting into garbage and bird feeders essentially stayed the same when bears were allowed to be hunted.

We know from our work in CT that most so-called “damage” reports and break-ins were preventable if humans modified their behavior and got rid of the food attractants the bears were responding to.

Scientific studies show there is actually a weak correlation between the population of bears and bear attacks. Bear-human conflict is more closely correlated with human behavior, according to The Journal of Wildlife Management. Indeed, some states with large black bear populations have fewer conflicts than states with much smaller bear numbers, a study by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies found. California, for example, which has 35,000 bears, reported just 259 interactions.

Council members tried to tout their non-lethal management tactics and their marketing budget of $1.5 million while digging in their heels that education is not enough and that they still needed a hunt as a “tool in their toolchest.” Fish and Game has only hired one new staff member to do black bear education outreach.

“One new staff member to do education about black bears for a state with more than 9 million residents is not much of an effort to protect residents. And your education campaign is in its infant stages,” Rivard said. “New Jersey has done nothing since 2018 in terms of systemic nonlethal measures such as passing legislation to prohibit bird feeders March-November or requiring residents to use bear resistant trash cans.

“It’s insane to reinstate a bear trophy hunt. The definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over again and expecting different results.”