New Jersey Governor Bans Bear Hunting on Public Lands

New Jersey Governor Bans Bear Hunting on Public Lands

News broke early in the week of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s executive order banning the legal hunting of black bears on state-owned and sportsmen-paid-for lands.

This action is not only on shaky legal ground, as New Jersey’s strongest-in-the-nation Fish and Wildlife Council may have something to say to the contrary, but also a deeply flawed public policy stance that criminalizes a scientifically sound, ethical and humane wildlife management program that has been deemed critically necessary by the best ursine biologists in the country.

So What Happened?
On Aug. 20—in a stunning move driven by pressure from deep-pocketed anti-hunting extremists—New Jersey’s Governor Philip Murphy bucked the science and the state’s 1.2 million hunters, fishermen and trappers and announced an executive order directing Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine McCabe to close all public lands to the state’s bear season during the upcoming hunt.

“The bottom line is that Governor Murphy’s recent executive action banning the black bear hunt on public land is reckless, and nothing more than political pandering to animal rights extremists,” said NRA-ILA New Jersey State Director Darin Goens. “The NRA is a strong supporter of our hunting traditions, and that means conservation and game management based on science, not politics.  New Jersey has one of the highest black bear densities in the country, and without hunting, an unchecked bear population is going to be a real threat to the general public as human-bear interactions increase. There really is no excuse for the governor usurping the Fish and Council’s authority on this issue.”

Facts on New Jersey's Bear Population
New Jersey is well served by an existing and comprehensive 5-year management plan that relies on the studies and population surveys by scientists in the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, rather than a special interest group agenda based on fear and misinformation.

Current estimates peg between 2,500 and 3,500 black bears just in the northwestern corner of New Jersey—with reported sightings in all 21 counties of the state. Counting the animals harvested in 2003 and 2005 it comes to 4,052 over 10 hunts. While complaints are dropping (another fact largely attributed to the resounding success of the hunt), contrary to the baseless claims of animal rights extremists, the population is still rising. More than twice as many bear cubs were born last year than the 416 black bears harvested during the hunt in the same year, and 80 percent of New Jersey bears survive to adulthood. New Jersey’s black bears also breed faster than any other population in North America. With current estimates hovering at a birth rate of about two cubs every two years in most areas, in New Jersey, the rate is four cubs.

With a current population of 3,500 bears, New Jerseyans are right to ask, “What would it have been without the harvest?” given the data on birth rates, survivability and the growing population. One only can guess it would be high.

Bears, just from sheer size and food motivation, have an amazing capacity to do damage to property and crop loss, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage every year. Other potential problems can be much more sinister. With the rise in popularity of things like hunting and camping among young people as recreational activity, it is only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt through an encounter with our ursine neighbors. In 2014, a Rutger student in New Jersey was tragically mauled to death by a black bear while on a hike. Meanwhile in July a 71-year-old woman in New Hampshire was attacked while confined to a wheelchair after breaking into her home.

Sportsmen Are Not the Enemy
According to estimates by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, New Jersey sportsmen’s contribution to wildlife conservation efforts in the United States tops $23 million every year, $7.66 million of which is through the Pittman-Robertson Fund—the fund made up of sportsmen’s license fees that pay for the very public lands that Governor Murphy has closed to the state’s sportsmen.

Brett Stayton, Mid-Atlantic States Coordinator for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, had this to say:

"This executive order contradicts the objective and science-based evidence that wildlife management decisions in our country are supposed to be predicated on. Regulated hunting is a proven tool for managing wildlife populations while simultaneously providing financial support for the conservation of both game and non-game species through the American System of Conservation Funding. The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation will continue to work with members of the New Jersey Angling and Hunting Conservation Caucus to protect and advance hunting access and opportunities in the Garden State, and to ensure that the management authority of New Jersey's bear population is left to dedicated wildlife professionals who use the best available science to develop policies."

Additionally, current studies of sportsmen’s economic impact estimate New Jersey hunters, fishermen and trappers spend over $1.26 billion annually, supporting 16,905 jobs in the state. The majority of these are family-supporting small businesses owned by fellow sportsmen.

Just the Tip of the Iceberg
This is a turning point for sporting policy in America. If Governor Murphy’s executive action on the bear hunt is allowed to stand, unilaterally banning a legal hunt from state lands paid for by hunters and intended for the purpose of hunting, such as wildlife management areas, it will be a huge blow to America’s wildlife conservation model.

Editor's Note: will continue tracking this issue as information is available from NRA-ILA, other sportsmen’s groups and the author. For additional background on New Jersey’s ongoing issues with human-bear encounters due to the state’s high density of black bears, check out this article from 2016: “New Jersey Moves to End Bear Hunting Amid Overpopulation?

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About the Author: Cody McLaughlin is a noted conservationist and conservative thought leader on the public policy issues of hunting, fishing, gun rights, free-market tax and wage policy and the environment. He currently works as a GOP consultant for conservative political causes, managing clients’ digital communications and online presence and as a Trustee of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, managing communications and representing the state’s 1.2 million sportsmen in the political arena.