New Jersey's seasonal bear hunt kicked off on Dec. 4 and will last through the Dec. 9. The hunt, which has historically been mired in controversy, may be the last one in a while if Gov.-elect Phil Murphy follows through on his promise to place a moratorium on bear hunting.
The bear hunt was banned for several years before outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie was elected. Christie wanted to reinstate it, according to the New Jersey Herald.
Hunting resumed in 2010 after Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin signed a management plan permitting a six-day December hunt into law. In addition to establishing a hunting season, the plan also included non-lethal options for resolving the population's conflict with bears, such as research and public education.
A new management plan approved in 2015 extended the bear hunting season to include six days for archery in October, as well as three days for muzzleloaders.
In the seven years since the hunt has been back, the bear population in the hunting area declined from 3,200 to 2,400, according to estimates from wildlife biologists. Mandatory hunting check stations recorded 3,017 bears killed.
Murphy is wary of the hunt. He campaigned on promise to put it off temporarily, pending reviews on the best ways to manage bear populations in the state. So far, it seems as if he's going to keep it.
"In the past, the bear hunt has been expanded without local input or evidence that it is effective at controlling the bear population," Murphy said. "My first concern will always be for public safety, but before authorizing another hunt we need a fuller understanding and proof it works better than non-lethal options in the state's long-term bear management policies."
Not everyone is satisfied with Murphy's proposal. Since the hunt began, the number of complaints regarding bears has decreased by 56 percent, USA Today reports.
"People do a much better job at garbage control now than they did before," said John Rogalo, hunter and president of the Morris County chapter of New Jersey's State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs. "To abandon a policy that is working just to satisfy a political agenda is irresponsible."
The number of bears killed in the December bear hunt decreased in 2016 since the October hunt took place. But wildlife management says that reduced hunting is often a matter of weather conditions. Opponents say it's also due to fewer bears in the state.
"I don't believe any of their numbers," said Angi Metler, the head of the New Jersey Animal Protection League of New Jersey.
Metler will be leading her usual protest one of New Jersey's bear check stations. Other opponents are pushing for a bill sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, which would place a moratorium on bear hunting, require bear-proof containers and restrict hunters from putting deer bait in bear habitats.
The bill is named "Pedals' Law" after the upright-walking bear, Pedals, who gained internet fame before being shot in the October 2016 hunt.
"This is what the public wants," said Metler, who believes that most New Jersey residents oppose the hunt. "And now we're going to have a governor who wants to provide good government for bears and for people."