Amid protests, New Jersey's latest black bear hunt is underway.
After a record-setting 2016 season, the latest New Jersey black bear hunt got off to a slow start this week. Rainy weather kept the opening day harvest low, while law enforcement officers arrested two protesters near Whittingham Wildlife Management Area.
At the end of opening day, hunters had taken 26 bears--a far cry from the 206 killed in 2016. Thanks in part to good weather, the 2016 harvest yielded a record 636 bears. This year's hunt is behind that pace, but by day three, the total number of bears killed rose to 123.
According to state wildlife officials, the New Jersey bear hunts help manage the black bear population, while also limiting interactions with humans. Universities and private sector corporations have heavily studied New Jersey's black bear population.
In the past year, officials with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife have used a tagging system to monitor the hunts. The state plans to cancel future hunts if hunters harvest 30 percent of tagged bears.
Black Bear Population Trends
There were an estimated 2,400 black bears at the beginning of this year's hunt. There were 3,200 in 2010 when the hunts were reinstated as part of an approved Black Bear Management Plan.
Overall, the New Jersey black bear population has grown and expanded its range since 1980, according to the state's Division of Fish and Wildlife. In recent years, the U.S. has seen a resurgence in its black bear population, leading to more sightings and run-ins with humans.
Still, the New Jersey hunt draws opponents each year on opening day.
This year, protesters gathered in the rain outside of the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area, yelling chants and holding signs to show their disapproval. Law enforcement arrested two protesters after they disobeyed instructions to stay out of the roadway.
A man playing bagpipes told the New Jersey Herald some paid him to "play like I was at a funeral."