by Cody McLaughlin - Thursday, September 14, 2023
In a resounding victory for sportsmen, conservationists and proponents of sound wildlife management, the New Jersey chapter of the so-called “Bear Wars” seems to be winding down as the state’s fish and game council and regulations book heralds the official return of the black bear hunting season after an absence marred by bad policy, extremist politics and multiple lawsuits for and against the hunt.
In a stunning reversal that floored even those of us who have been covering and fighting this hunting ban since before current New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was even elected, Murphy spearheaded an emergency rulemaking to reauthorize the black bear season to address the state’s expanding bear numbers. The Comprehensive Black Bear Management Plan (CBBMP) was approved by the New Jersey Fish and Game Council and issued through executive order, a procedural gimmick that allowed Murphy the ability to institute a last-minute bear hunt but with the caveat that because it was an emergency rulemaking, the move only would be valid for 120 days. After that, the state was required to perform all the usual public comment periods and procedural hurdles to be able to legalize the hunt and change its status from temporary to a fully fledged hunt for this year.
Guided by emotion over public safety, anti-hunting extremists then sued the governor, appealing the emergency adoption of the black bear hunt and requesting an injunction from the Superior Court of New Jersey. On Nov. 30, 2022, the stay was granted, and but just six days later on Dec. 5, the motion was denied and the black bear hunt was officially temporarily reinstated. Despite the closure of the early fall season and uncertainty around the surprise December hunt (including the injunction), hunters pulled through and still managed to put a respectable 7 percent harvest on the ground.
On July 11, the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Council held true to its word and voted to approve the CBBMP, which was then sent to and signed by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.
This means that for the foreseeable future, New Jersey’s black bear management plan—and the management hunt that keeps citizens and bears healthy through the sustainable management of the state’s densest-in-the-nation bear population—is enshrined in law.
The hunt comes as a welcome reprieve for beleaguered New Jersey (and nearby northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York residents) who are tired of living in fear of the next Category 1 (violent) bear incident. As complaints in the state continue to skyrocket after years of black bear mismanagement, hunters stand to bring the population back into line and serve as an important check on exploding populations and the inevitable conflicts that go with them. This is particularly critical in such densely populated states like New Jersey where the consequences are real. Just last week, a 7-year-old boy just a few miles over the border from New Jersey in Westchester County, N.Y., was attacked by a bear. A few weeks before that, a man in Pennsylvania was bitten on his head by a black bear inside his own garage, calling to mind the man in New Jersey whose face was clawed by a bear a few years ago in his own garage.
As we hunters celebrate the return of the New Jersey black bear hunt, it's important to acknowledge the intricate interplay of science, collaboration and policy that underpins this achievement. This success story reiterates the power of partnership between the biologists at the state wildlife agency and the conservation organizations and responsible hunters who all have been caught in the middle of this issue for years, all working to ensure the sustainable health of the resource. The state’s upcoming black bear hunting season is a testament to the triumph of balanced and science-driven conservation—a model that reflects New Jersey's commitment to safeguarding its natural outdoor heritage for generations to come.
About the Author
Cody McLaughlin is a conservationist and conservative thought leader on public policy issues including hunting, fishing, gun rights, free-market tax and wage policy and the environment. He recently launched Trout Stream Studios as an executive producer for podcasts and livestreams in the hunting and veterans’ affairs spaces, including for the popular Blood Origins podcast and the Veterans’ Affairs Administration’s National Center for PTSD, and works as an advertising consultant for conservative political causes, managing clients’ digital communications and online presence. In addition, he serves on the board of the Alaska Outdoor Council—the Last Frontier’s State’s NRA affiliate, and is a former board member and lead spokesman of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance.
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