Bear management is a hot topic on the west and east coasts

This is an active time for black bear politics on both sides of the United States.

As Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Commission addresses the future of limited-entry spring hunts this Friday, the governor of New Jersey lifted his suspension from the end of the state’s fall season, saying “data demand that we act now to prevent the tragic bear-humans”. interactions. »

BLACK BEAR NORTH WATERFALLS. (CHAD SMITH)

The U-turn by Governor Phillip Murphy – a Democrat whose 2017 campaign included a pledge to end bear hunting in favor of non-lethal measures – has animal rights groups pledging to sue to stop the season which is expected to start Dec. 5 and run for at least six days alongside gun deer season, and possibly four more in the middle of the month, depending on the number of harvests.

Bear advocates claim it’s “recreational trophy hunting,” according to the New York Times today, but it appears the governor is actually focused on restoring public safety, as conflict prevention efforts seem insufficient to address the scale of the urine problem.

“From the beginning of my administration, I have promised to base every tough decision on the latest science and evidence to protect our communities,” Murphy said in a Nov. 10 press release. “From the data we’ve analyzed and the stories we’ve heard from families across the state, it’s clear that New Jersey’s black bear population is increasing significantly and that non-lethal management strategies bears alone are not enough to mitigate this trend. Every New Jerseyer deserves to live in communities where their children, family and property are protected from all harm, and even though I am committed to ending to bear hunting, the data demands that we act now to prevent tragic bear-human interactions.We must responsibly adapt to the population with carefully regulated and stringent bear population management strategies to ensure our communities and families are protected from the growing population of black bears.

The plan had originally been to suspend the hunt “to provide an opportunity to assess the feasibility of exclusively using non-lethal measures to maintain the population in a manner that protects public safety”.

But Murphy’s office now indicates an increase in human-bear interactions, up 237% in the first nine months of this year compared to the same period in 2021 and including “62 aggressive encounters with humans, 1 human attack , 12 dog attacks, 12 home entry attacks, 15 home entry attempts, 84 property damage cases over $1,000, and 52 attacks on protected livestock.

And with New Jersey’s bear population expected to increase by 33% over the next two years, the governor’s office says that “in the absence of population control measures, the rate of population growth will will worsen in coming years as more female bears breed. , population reduction being the only scientifically sound method of limiting uncontrolled growth and dispersal.

It’s good that we have this little experience out of the way, and it’s worth noting that this “clear flip-flop”, as the Sportsmen’s Alliance put it, came directly from the governor of a state politically and environmentally similar to Washington.

It represents the full weight of New Jersey’s executive leadership – its dominant political apparatus – acknowledging a problem caused by overly delicate notions of wildlife management and turning back on the toll highway.

It was a crazy idea at first.

“In the past,” Murphy said after his election in late 2017, “bear hunting has been expanded without local input or evidence that it is effective in controlling the bear population. My first concern will be always public safety, but before allowing another hunt, we need a better understanding and proof that it works better than non-lethal options in the state’s long-term bear management policies As governor, my administration will institute a state bear hunting moratorium.

Bear hunting ended first on state land, then in 2020 also on private land.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country with 1,263 people per square mile. There must have been more bear problems than could ever be handled, say opponents of the hunting ban.

“This is a win and proof of how this ideology doesn’t work – a staunchest follower of this ideology reversing course and admitting it doesn’t work,” said Brian Lynn, vice president of communications based in the Spokane area for Sportsmen’s Alliance. , tonight. “No matter how much money you spend on it or try to spin it, it ultimately comes down to apex predators clashing with modern society. And that requires active and proactive monitoring and management. Not reactive management as we see embraced by Wildlife For All and the Reformers’ in Washington with their WDFW targeting and predator management.

Speaking of Washington, despite being 11 times less densely populated than New Jersey, the past three and a half months have seen an unusual increase in bear attacks, including a jogger in a wooded area in Whatcom County and a woman walking her dog at a riverside park next to Leavenworth town centre. Both victims were taken to hospital for their injuries and released the same day; the offending bruins were hunted down by WDFW Karelian bear dogs and fatally disposed of.

Prior to the former incident, Washington’s last bear attack occurred in 2015, according to WDFW.

There have also been many, many problems with bears getting too used to living with people who feed them or leave trash and other objects for them to get into, sometimes forcing agency officers to take down habituated bears. A fed bear is a dead bear, officials often say.

VISITORS TO THE OREGON COAST PASS A GARBAGE POSSESSED BY A BLACK BEAR THE NIGHT BEFORE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Preventing human conflict is one of four reasons Washington allows black bear hunting in the spring. Others include mitigating losses of fawns and elk in the spring, providing a recreational opportunity for big game in the spring, and reducing damage to timber.

Everything is on the line, and possibly permanently, later this week, as the Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to “review options and take steps to establish its spring bear hunting policy, ranging from establishment of policy or vote to eliminate future spring bear hunts”. establish a policy or vote to authorize spring bear hunts in accordance with criteria established in a new policy.

The commission has set aside five hours to discuss all of this; an agenda indicates the steps they will follow to arrive at decisions.

How did we come here? Glad you asked.

To sum up, WDFW biologists and managers don’t believe the spring hunt — which in recent years has offered about 660 scattered beacons across the state, with a success rate of about 20 to 25 percent — represents a threat to the approximately 20,000 people in the state. -high population of black bears in any case.

But 1) in November 2021, the commission blocked 4-4 on authorizing a 2022 season, suspending it, then 2) after a pro-Predator member resigned, voted 4-3 to restart planning of the season before 3) the appointment of three new commissioners by the governor’s office scuttled this on a 5 to 4 vote, then 4) on the same vote, the commission told WDFW not to prepare a proposal for the season 2023, then 5) decided that by the end of this year, it would establish a policy around the spring black bear season.

Which brings us to this Friday.

Prior to the meeting, the commission is collecting public comments until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16 via this portal.

Groups like Lynn’s Sportsmen’s Alliance and Howl For Wildlife encourage hunters to record their thoughts.

The basic issues are different, but before the Governor of New Jersey reversed his state’s bear hunting ban, I would have said the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s vote would have dropped to four in favor of reopening the bear hunt in the spring, four against and one in the middle, but now I wonder if others will see the light.

Jessica C. Bell