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Bear abundance borne out in New Jersey

In so many areas throughout the Northeast, black bear populations have expanded while human beings enlarge their building spaces in prime bear habitat areas.

Vast stretches of the Southern Tier, managed as the Department of Environmental Conservation Allegany Region, and the western Catskills have seen marked increases in both bear numbers and in expanded areas of habitation in recent years.

To control these increased bear numbers, the DEC has opened additional areas in the Southern Zone of the state to hunting and harvest numbers have increased.

That same management scenario has not played out in forested, hilly inland country in the State of New Jersey. While nearby Maryland has held a numbers-controlled hunt in areas with high densities of bruins, anti-hunting factions have appealed to New Jersey legislators and game managers to ban hunts since the 2005 hunting season.

In Maryland, steady increases in bear-man encounters in western counties of the state prompted game officials in 2003 to initiate a controlled hunt based on a set harvest number. The season could be halted on a day game managers believed the quota might be exceeded.

In 2004, 20 bears were tagged, in 2005 the number went to 41, and by 2009 hunters tagged 86 bruins in Western Maryland. During that period, bear-human conflicts were reduced significantly.

J.B. Kasper, reporting in the Trenton Times, noted that the intensity of bear-people problems in New Jersey far exceeded conditions in nearby Maryland, Pennsylvania or New York.

Kasper points out, "New Jersey is a lot different than Pennsylvania or New York in that it is smaller and lots more built up. The bear population is being squeezed out by constant urban development," a reference to the ideal bear habitat found in the northwest part of that state.

This past fall, a bear-hunting season was proposed, approved and held in that northwest area of New Jersey, from Dec. 6 to 11. Game officials targeted a total of 600 bears harvested to control the population.

On the first day of the hunt, 264 bears were reported taken. The weekday count declined each day (122, 55, 36, and 35), with a Saturday jump to 79 for a final total of 591 bears harvested.

The good news is that many of those kills were nuisance bears that were less fearsome of human presence. The down side is that approximately 800 bear cubs were projected to be born and alive at the start of this winter season in an area of about 2,000 square miles.

Game officials see similar harvest numbers that reduced bear complaints after the 2005 hunt and believe it will cut down on the number of encounter reports in 2011.


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