It looks like the 2020 New Jersey bear hunt will be the last for the state.
In arguably the biggest hunting news headline of 2020 yet, New Jersey is planning on permanently ending bear hunting after the conclusion of the 2020 seasons according to Governor Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The Garden State has long been a battleground for bear hunting in recent years with hunters and anti-hunting groups often clashing over the best way to manage New Jersey's large population of black bears.
"The 2020 bear hunt will be the LAST," Murphy tweeted on Monday afternoon.
NorthJersey.com reports that this year's bear hunts will go on, but New Jersey Fish and Game will propose an amendment that will immediately suspend hunting at the conclusion of this season. Bear hunting in New Jersey has long been allowed under the state's "Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy." That policy was already set to expire in June of 2021, but this new amendment will remove it from the state's game code.
The 2020 bear hunt will be the LAST.
The New Jersey Fish and Game Council has proposed an amendment to the Game Code that will:
☑️SUSPEND the bear hunt following the conclusion of the 2020 season
☑️Remove the current Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy from the Game Code
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) October 5, 2020
Now the only way another black bear hunt could happen in New Jersey after that is if a new policy allowing hunting is adopted.
The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife is holding a public comment period on this and a few other hunting proposals. Hunters wishing to comment can do so online here. The agency will accept comments for the next 60 days or through December 4.
"The DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife, in coordination with the independent Fish and Game Council, is committed to protecting public safety and wildlife," DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe told reporters. "As DFW and the council embark upon the data and policy analysis necessary to develop a new Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy, we will rely on the best science, engage often with the public and work to achieve the best balance."
Meanwhile, animal rights groups are calling for Murphy to shut down this year's seasons too via executive order. Groups like the Animal Protection League of New Jersey worked with the Humane Society and Sierra Club are the ones who filed petitions asking McCabe to remove the bear management policy earlier this year.
However, they have not stopped there. Now the groups are trying to shut down the 2020 hunt too and they're using the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as part of their argument.
"The governor shut down restaurants, hair salons and jewelry stores, so he can cancel the bear hunt," the Animal Protection League's attorney Doris Lin told reporters. "You can't drag a bear out of the woods by yourself. We're not asking for a socially distanced hunt. We're asking the governor to cancel the hunt."
As if all that wasn't enough, there is another wrinkle to the story. New Jersey's controversial 2017 ban on bear hunting on state lands is still being fought over in the state courts. The ban led to a significant decrease in the number of bruins harvested in New Jersey the last few years. In the meantime, the state has also seen an increase in the number of bear complaints. New Jersey Outdoor Alliance spokesman Cody McLaughlin told NorthJersey.com those two things were linked.
"We have spoken truth to power to this governor for over two years regarding the necessity of bear hunting in New Jersey to the health and safety of our residents," McLaughlin said. "With regard to the governor's tweet today, we feel he should take personal liability and responsibility for all negative bear-human interactions that result from his irresponsible order, which have spiked under his administration's fruitless efforts to fly in the face of settled science."
New Jersey's bow season for bear officially begins next Monday with firearms season set to begin in December. We will keep an eye on this story and bring you any more developments on this or the status of the current seasons here at Wide Open Spaces.