Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Larger Area, Good Weather Help Boost Bear Hunt Totals

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Larger Area, Good Weather Help Boost Bear Hunt Totals

Article excerpt

The weather was great, the hunting area larger, and by the end of the first day of black bear hunting season, more of the state's bruins were killed than at the same time last year, according to unofficial reports from the Department of Environmental Protection.

At the 7 p.m. close, a canvass of the check-in stations in the state's five hunting areas showed that at least 177 bears had been killed during the day, said Bob Considine, a DEP spokesman.

And considering the lines of hunters with kills still waiting to register, Considine said, "I anticipate the number for the first day will exceed 200."

That far surpassed the black bear death toll for the first day last year, when 124 bears were killed by hunters.

"We're not sure what it all means," said Considine. "We'll look [at the numbers] over the course of the week."

The death toll on opening day is traditionally the highest of any day of the six-day hunt, and it often accounts for nearly half of the bears killed. The numbers are being closely watched both by supporters of the hunt and its opponents because the newly adopted black bear management policy allows the Division of Fish and Wildlife to extend the season by four days if it fails to reduce the bear population by 20 percent.

The state also has expanded the hunt into a newly drawn Zone 5, which includes part of Wayne, plus Wanaque, Pompton Lakes, Pequannock, Riverdale and Butler. Zone 5 also takes in all of Somerset County and part of Mercer.

The black bear population is estimated at 3,500 bears -- meaning hunters would have to kill 700 bears by Saturday to meet the goal. Hunters have never killed that many bears in previous years' hunts.

Critics of the hunt say the population estimate is inflated, and they made that point loud and clear during a protest held at the check station at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area in Newton on Monday. The state estimated the bear population at between 1,900 and 2,200 after last year's hunt.

"There's no justification for this, and there's no science behind it," said Angi Metler, the director of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey. "The state hasn't done a real population study in many, many years. They just guess at the number."

As of Monday, the state had issued 8,200 black bear permits, an increase of 300 from last year, Considine said. The state will continue to sell them throughout the hunt, which is scheduled to end on Saturday at sunset.

It was impossible to tell whether more permits put more hunters in the field as the sun rose Monday. But unlike in recent years, when a combination of bitter cold, ice, rain, sleet and snow have conspired to keep hunters indoors and bears in their dens, Monday was warm and clear. The unseasonably warm conditions are expected to remain throughout the week.

"We have great weather, so the bears should be up and about," said Carole Stanko, the acting chief of the state Bureau of Wildlife Management, who spent the day at the Whittingham check station. …

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