TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s first expanded black bear hunt in more than three decades ended Saturday, just days after lawmakers advanced a measure that would remove the animals from a list of game species.
Hunters killed 549 bears during the six-day hunt, officials announced late Saturday. However, they said that number could increase slightly on Sunday because some hunters may not have been able to bring their bears to the check-in stations before they closed Saturday night.
Hunters could only use bows and arrows to kill their prey during the first three days and muzzle-loading guns were added during the second half.
New Jersey approved resuming the bear hunt in 2003 after more than 30 years as a way to curb a growing population that was increasingly crossing paths with humans. The first hunt didn’t take place until 2010.
But animal rights’ groups and lawmakers say the hunt causes more problems and is “inhumane.”
Angi Metler, executive director of the Bear Education And Resource program, called the hunt brutal, cruel and ineffective.
“It causes additional problems with orphaned bears left behind and doesn’t reduce complaints or incidents,” she said.
Metler believes the key to keeping humans and bears apart is restricting unnatural food sources by keeping garbage cans shut tight and removing birdfeeders.
Her group and others are pressing lawmakers to ban the hunts.
An Assembly committee on Thursday approved a bill that would remove black bears from the list of game species, and the panel advanced a resolution which opposes expansion of the black bear hunting season.
“The state’s current policy dictating multiple hunting seasons to control the black bear population is inhumane,” said co-sponsor Democratic Assemblyman Timothy Eustace. “For 30 years, New Jersey went without hunting black bear as a control method and with the alternative methods we can do it again.”
The firearm-only season for bear hunting this year is scheduled to take place from Dec. 5-10. The length of the season will depend on the numbers of bears harvested during the fall hunt.
Rumors surfaced online Thursday that one of those bears harvested was Pedals, the bipedal bear that has drawn national attention because of videos showing it ambling with apparently injured paws that prohibit it from walking comfortably on all fours.
The Injured Bipedal Bear Facebook page posted that witnesses had seen a hunter bragging that Pedals was dead. But none of the witnesses supplied video or photos, and the statements have not been verified.
“I do not know of anyone in fish and wildlife that that person bragged to,” state Environmental Protection Department spokesman Larry Hajna said.
The state Division of Fish and Wildlife, which has biologists at the weigh stations, issued a statement saying it had no way of verifying the identity of any bear that wasn’t previously tagged or had a DNA sample taken.
“During this current bear hunt period, and in previous bear seasons, there have been multiple bears observed at different check stations with injured or missing limbs,” the statement said. “Without any prior scientific data taken from a bear, it is not possible to verify the identity of a bear that has been harvested.”
State officials decided it would be better off for Pedals to remain in its natural habitat despite calls to trap and move it to a sanctuary in New York state.
Pedals was last seen on video in June and appeared in good health.