TRENTON – Groups opposed to the recent restoration of New Jersey’s bear hunt that kicks off on Monday have sued in a last-minute attempt to cancel it.

A coalition of national and state animal protection groups say the state Fish and Game Council is misusing its emergency rulemaking power as a loophole to limit the public’s right to weigh in on the hunt.

The 2022 hunt was authorized two weeks ago. A long-term bear management plan that includes an annual hunt is also being proposed on the normal regulatory schedule and will be the subject of a public hearing on Jan. 18.

The lawsuit asking the courts to stop the hunt, which runs from Dec. 5 and 10 and could be extended from Dec. 14 to 17, was filed by the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, the Humane Society of the United States and Friends of Animals.

It disputes the need for emergency action, saying the number of reported bear incidents this year is comparable with other years. It says over 90% of complaints were reports of routine bear behavior and incidents that pose no imminent danger to the public, such as sightings of injured bears and bears seeking food from unsecured garbage cans and bird feeders.

“The public is not facing any ‘imminent peril’ from New Jersey’s bruins, and the numbers that the agency cites to claim otherwise are misleading and taken out of context,” said Kate Hendrix, staff attorney for the Humane Society of the United States. “The real emergency is the threat hundreds of New Jersey’s bears will face if this horrific, unscientific hunt is not stopped.”

“The council is not above the law and should not be allowed to impede public input by fabricating an ‘emergency,’” said Jennifer Best, director of the Friends of Animals Wildlife Law Program.

“In addition to the disingenuous emergency, the New Jersey black bear hunt is illegal because the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy is arbitrary and capricious and fails to meet the standards set out by the state Supreme Court,” said Doris Lin, legal director for the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.

The groups say there is only a weak correlation between the population of bears and bear attacks. They point to an Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies study that found some states with large black bear populations have fewer conflicts than states with much smaller bear numbers.

California, for example, which has 35,000 bears, reported just 259 interactions. While California has more than four times the number of residents that New Jersey does, the Golden State is also nearly 19 times larger in terms of land area.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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