View Full Version : New Jersey: Fewer serious incidents with bears so far this year

Horizontal Hunter
09-20-2012, 09:33 AM
Posted: Sep 19, 2012 11:03 PM EDT Updated: Sep 19, 2012 11:32 PM EDT

Reports of aggressive bears in New Jersey are showing a dramatic decline this year, according to the latest statistics from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Through Aug. 20, a total of 56 Category One bears were reported to DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife, down from 146 through the same period last year.
The DEP, about a decade ago, devised a three-tier classification system for bears in New Jersey. Bears showing behavior deemed "an immediate threat to human safety," or causing agricultural damage to farmland or property damage of at least $500, are classified as Category One and subject to being euthanized upon being captured.
The numbers to date reflect an escalation of a declining trend in aggressive bear reports. Reports of Category One bears slipped from 257 in 2009 to 235 in 2010 and to 200 last year.
By contrast, reports of Category One bears surged from 112 in 2007 to 276 in 2008.
Asked about the 2012 data so far, Division of Fish and Wildlife Assistant Director Larry Herrighty said it is too early to know whether the downward trend would hold through year's end, but said the last two bear hunts were likely contributing factors to the diminishing reports of aggressive bears.
A total of 592 and 469 bears were killed in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
"We hope this is a result of our comprehensive management plan," Herrighty said, referring to efforts ranging from the hunt to educating residents in bear country about the need to secure garbage and take other precautions.
Herrighty, speculating as to other possible contributing factors, cited the warmer-than-usual weather this year, dating to the waning days of winter.
"Big bears won't move around when it's really hot," Herrighty said.
Bear hunting in New Jersey resumed in 2003 following a three-decade moratorium. Subsequent hunts were held in 2005, 2010 and 2011, and a six-day season is scheduled to begin Dec. 3.
In addition to the decline in aggressive bears -- the 2012 data through Aug. 20 shows no attacks on people, a decline in home entries from 38 to 14 and only four reports of property damage -- the statistics reflect a decrease in bear activity across all categories.
Reports of Category Two bears, defined as nuisance bears not posing a threat to people or property, declined from 773 through Aug. 20 in 2011 to 439 through the same period this year, a 43.2 percent drop.
Category Two behavior includes rummaging through garbage, for example, and such bears typically are subject to "aversive conditioning" -- from rubber buckshot and pyrotechnic charges to bear dogs -- to discourage a repeat. If captured, Category Two bears typically are relocated.
There were 676 reports of Category Three bears through Aug. 20, down from 1,034, or 34.6 percent, through the same timeframe in 2011. Category Three bears are those exhibiting normal bear behavior, in many cases doing nothing other than being sighted.
Jeff Tittel, director the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said the decreasing numbers raise a question about the long-term viability of hunting bears in New Jersey.
"It says that the population is dropping. The question is, is the hunt going to be sustainable," Tittel said.
The state suspended its annual bear season for more than three decades in the early 1970s when the bear population slipped close to extinction. The resumption of bear hunting has pitted hunters against animal rights activists, resulting in protests and confrontations outside DEP weigh stations during the annual hunts.
Herrighty, though, said there is no evidence that the overall bear population is in decline. He said that DEP's population estimate last year -- about 3,000 bears north of Route 78 and west of Route 287 -- remains in play today.
Bears have been sighted in all 21 counties, but Herrighty said the population south of Route 78 and east of Route 287 is not large enough to make an estimate.

While the hunt resulted in more than 1,000 dead bears in 2010 and 2011, he noted that the average female bear has three cubs -- up to six in some cases -- and that reproductive rates are unchanged...