Stop the New Jersey Bear Hunt
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Dave Burke, Acting Chairman, New Jersey Fish & Game Council (FGC);
David Chanda, Director, New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife (DFW);
Bob Martin, Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP);
Chris Christie, Governor, State of New Jersey
We, the undersigned, do hereby declare and affirm that:
New Jersey's Bear Hunt Violates the Public Trust Doctrine
- Under the Public Trust Doctrine, New Jersey's black bears belong to all the people of New Jersey. Bears are held in trust by the State for the benefit of the public, and all members of the public have an equal interest in the health and welfare of their wildlife trust.
- In 2015, an Open Public Comments Act request revealed that over 92% of public comments opposed the State's revised Comprehensive Black Bear Management Plan (CBBMP). The public clearly opposed the DFW's plan to not just continue hunting bears, but to add an extra season in October, broaden the methods of take to include bow-hunting, and expand the number of Bear Management Zones (BMZs) in which hunting will occur.
- The DFW's goal of killing at least 20% and possibly as much as 30% of the bears in the five zones open for hunting, with no consideration for other causes of mortality, allocates a grotesquely disproportionate share of the public's wildlife trust to the tiny special interest group (less than 1% of the public) that perceives bear hunting as a recreational opportunity. This is plainly illegitimate under broad-based public-trust principles and cannot be reconciled with any basic concept of fairness in a putatively democratic society.
- The Fish and Game Council (FGC) that approved the CBBMP has a built-in, statutory majority of hunters and offers no meaningful representation to non-consumptive users of wildlife. Its claim to “equitably distribute recreational opportunity to user groups” refers strictly to consumptive users, and amounts to wildlife management for the one percent. The FGC is a textbook example of a captured agency.
- Public-trust principles do not require the public to pay anything to assert their rights as beneficiaries of the public trust. Nonetheless, the general public has contributed (by the CBBMP's figures) $5.5 million of the $12 million spent on bear management from FY01 through FY15. DFW is effectively using taxpayer money to subsidize a special interest group whose values are not widely shared by the taxpaying public.
- The October season is designed to increase the killing of mother bears and their cubs, who previously had been afforded some protection by the December season in place since 2010 (due to denning). It is also designed to increase hunter participation and hunter retention rates, by offering novel experiences in better weather. These objectives compound the State's disrespect for non-consumptive users of wildlife and deprecate all those who see bears as more than “renewable resources.”
- Black bears are an asset, not a liability. A bear permit fee of $2 (two dollars) sends a signal to society that bears are little more than vermin. Bears are, in fact, one of the natural world's most remarkable creatures; their conservation should be based on a foundation of inter-species respect, not an attitude of contempt.
New Jersey's Bear Hunt Ignores the Best Available Science
- Across North America, numerous scientific studies have shown that hunting does not reduce human-bear conflict (HBC). The evidence is clear that the key drivers of HBC are variations in the availability of natural foods and the level of attractants in human neighborhoods. New Jersey's claim that it is somehow an exception to these scientific findings is not credible, and its determination to prove its point by killing even more bears perverts science in the service of special-interest pandering. The increase in HBC observed after 2013 does not call for larger “harvests”; it calls for more effective trash management.
- The DFW's claim that residents in New Jersey's bear country are in “near complete compliance” with garbage-management guidelines due to its education efforts simply beggars belief. New Jerseyans are no different from anyone else: they do not readily change their behavior, especially in the absence of meaningful enforcement. The reality is that trash management has not been widely implemented, and the DFW has not pursued this aspect of bear management with anything like the level of commitment it devotes to providing hunting opportunities.
- The DFW cannot be trusted to provide the public with accurate data about HBC. In 2010, an independent scientist, Prof. Edward Tavss of Rutgers University, demonstrated that the DFW had manipulated HBC data after 2007 to portray a dramatic increase in HBC and thereby strengthen its case for the resumption of hunting that occurred in 2010. The truth was that, if consistent methodologies were employed, HBC was declining. The DFW continues to publish that tainted data in its latest CBBMP.
- The DFW's assertion that black bears in New Jersey have unusually high reproductive rates conveniently ignores the fact that deliberately “managing” populations of wildlife well below the biological carrying capacity of their habitat will tend to increase litter sizes as the populations rebound from high rates of “harvest.” The argument that the bear population must be controlled is disingenuous, because managers are using this rebound effect to ensure continued hunting opportunities for their agency's preferred group of stakeholders.
- Bear-baiting with rich human foods may increase hunter “success rates,” but it encourages bears to seek out sources of calories found only in human-dominated areas and tends to further increase litter sizes.
- The concept of social ecology teaches us that the creation of orphaned cubs will exacerbate the tendency of bear hunting to increase HBC. Inexperienced juvenile animals are far more likely to succumb to the temptation of human-provided “ready meals,” particularly since their education in natural foraging has been cut short by the killing of their mother. Naturally, the DFW will use any resultant increase in HBC as a pretext to kill even more bears, not to re-examine its misguided lethal-management policies.
In consideration of the foregoing, we hereby request:
- Cancellation of the bear hunting seasons planned for 2017 and subsequent years.
- A serious commitment to intelligent bear-proof trash management in BMZs 1-5, as anticipated by Senator Raymond Lesniak's bill, S55.
- Reform of the Fish & Game Council by appropriate legislation to provide genuine representation to non-consumptive users of wildlife commensurate with their preponderance in New Jersey society, and removing the legislative mandate to provide recreational “harvest” opportunities.
- Abandonment by the DFW of the antiquated concept of “democracy of hunting” in the much-vaunted North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. This tenet is plainly illegitimate under public-trust principles, transferring public trust assets to a tiny special interest instead of serving the common interest. The only appropriate standard for responsible wildlife management in the 21st century is democracy for everyone.
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