Outdoors with Tom Venesky: A bear of a problem

By Tom Venesky - [email protected]
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New Jersey’s bear population could double by 2022, and that could mean twice the trouble for parts of Pennsylvania.

In August, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy banned bear hunting on state lands effective this year.

Currently, the bear population in northern New Jersey is estimated at 3,500. Confined to a relatively small land mass, the population is considered dense. Taking hunting out of the equation will make it downright crowded.

That’s not good for New Jersey nor Pennsylvania.

According to the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Bear Management Policy, it is predicted that the bear population could double in the Garden State if hunting was removed as a management tool. The move would “quickly allow the population to rebound to unacceptable levels,” the report stated.

Now that bear hunting is banned on public land (Gov. Murphy also encouraged New Jersey lawmakers to work on banning bear hunting on private property as well) the bruin population could boom, quickly.

That’s a concern for Pennsylvania because crowded conditions could force bears to roam into the eastern part of the state. Sure, the Delaware River would be an obstacle, but it’s no roadblock for bears looking for open space.

That means places such as Pike and Monroe counties, which already have abundant bear numbers, could be inundated even more if bruins start to leave New Jersey in significant numbers.

And they won’t stop there.

As long as the bear population in New Jersey remains unchecked without hunting, numbers will rise and more bruins will cross into Pennsylvania. They’ll hit the eastern counties first, but after a while Carbon, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties could experience the spillover as well.

Harvests of tagged bears in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey has shown that they are already crossing back-and-forth through the Delaware River. The travel route is already established.

The move to ban bear hunting is a shortsighted and even selfish approach. I’ve read nothing where Murphy has a contingency plan in place to deal with rising bear numbers, and it’s reckless to remove the most proven tool of wildlife management — hunting — simply because it’s not a means that is pleasing to the everyone.

Based on reports from the NJFWS, hunting has been an effective tool in handling the bear population. From 2006 to 2010, when bear hunting season was closed in New Jersey, both the population and the number of complaints increased. Without hunting, New Jersey wildlife officials were limited in what they could do to address bear complaints. More than 300 bears were captured at complaint sites, some were released and 98 others were euthanized.

Is euthanization a better option than hunting? Is that a more humane way to control the bear population?

Better yet, does it even work to limit complains and manage numbers?

Not hardly.

When bear season was re-employed in New Jersey from 2013 to 2017, the number of bears captured and euthanized or released dropped by nearly 46 percent.

Hunting works.

The thing I find troubling is the selfishness of Murphy’s action and those that support it. To let the bear population grow unabated with no concern to the impact on the resource, residents of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania is akin to living in a fantasy world.

So if Pennsylvania’s bear population spikes thanks to New Jersey’s hunting ban, what can be done here? Pennsylvania Game Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent said hunting seasons could be changed, particularly if human-bear conflicts spiked as well.

There’s always room for longer seasons to address changes in the bear population, but that’s a step that wouldn’t be necessary if New Jersey utilized hunting to ensure there was enough room for its own bear population.

To do otherwise is a move that the numbers simply don’t justify.

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By Tom Venesky

[email protected]