DARIEN, Conn. ““ On Monday, Bradley M. Campbell, the commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, approved a controversial black bear hunt. Opponents of the hunt challenge the department’s claim that increases in complaints necessitate the killing of bears.

Friends of Animals, an international animal rights organization, maintains that the six-day black bear hunt slated to take place next month will hinder the state and local communities’ work to create viable and peaceful alternatives to shooting bears.

“Commissioner Campbell has been on and off with the hunt, watching for fluctuations in the number of bears,” said Daniel Hammer, a program coordinator for Friends of Animals. “Bears are considered a problem, but the real problem is that leaders react, rather than sensibly respond.”

A poster issued by the Department of Environmental Protection itself tells us how to mitigate perceived problems with bears: “Use bear-proof garbage containers, if possible. They offer the best protection.”

“If bear-resistant containers are a common-sense response, why isn’t the Department working to make them available in every corner of New Jersey’s bear country?” asked Hammer. “Why direct the relevant resources to recreational hunting instead?”

In his statement against the bear hunt last year, Campbell noted the severe limits that the 2003 hunt placed on staff time and resources available for public education and bear feeding-ban enforcement. Campbell urged the Department “to show substantial additional progress in each of these areas before considering another black bear hunt.”

Friends of Animals’ bear consultant, Winthrop Staples III, a Wildlife Technician at Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, said bear reduction is not required and emphasized that denying bears human food eliminates most perceived conflicts.

“The apparent slow pace of getting bear resistant containers in widespread use in New Jersey is practically and morally very disturbing,” said Staples. “In plain language, someone is liable to be killed by a bear because the New Jersey political class is too timid to mandate bear proof containers. This would be an opportune time for public servants to display some strong safeguarding of human food in New Jersey.”