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Hunting Bears in New Jersey Sparks Turmoil

Hunting bears in New Jersey sparks turmoil for residents living in areas where bear and human populations increasingly interact. On Tuesday, May 18, 2010 after five years of collecting evidence and weighing opposition, New Jersey officials approved the first bear hunt scheduled for Fall 2010. Representatives from many organizations and residents gathered for the hearing. The Environmental Protection Department, the Fish and Game Council, The Human Society, The New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmans Clubs, several nature conservation groups, local officials, and residents from all over New Jersey attended the bear management policy meeting. The opinion of the crowd was mixed with many supporters and strong opposition of allowing bear hunting. Supporters of the bear hunt found those in opposition "too emotional" and "bloodthirsty."

Resident August Gudmundson reported his support, shared by many: "As an outdoorsman, I'm always thrilled to see a bear in my backyard, but it's not fun to see a bear on my deck." Julie Divine, resident of northern New Jersey, tearfully reported her opposition "I was so afraid of gunshots, the ricochet gunshots from bear hunting." Divine took extreme measures in 2004 after the state sanctioned a bear hunting season and chose to drive her children to school rather than send them by bus in an attempt to protect them from stray bullets.

Officials and researchers have found that the black bear population in New Jersey is on the rise, as are dangerous human and bear contact. Environmental commissioner Bob Martin approved a plan in March that detailed research indicating a steady increase of bear attacks including incidents involving bears, humans, pets, and farm animals. Researchers from East Stroudsburg University found that in Sussex and Passaic counties, the bear population rose 62 percent from 2002 to 2007. The total bear population in New Jersey, as of 2009, was 3,438 and growing. The Department of Fish and Wildlife also provided data which stated the number of incidents regarding bear attacks on livestock and bears "ravaging" crops increased three to fourfold since 2006.

A lawsuit has been filed against the Fish and Game Council by the Bear Education and Resource Group. The group completely opposes bear hunting and alleges in court documents, that the Council violated New Jersey's Open Public Meeting Act. The Fish and Game Council is still weighing public comments while drafting a final plan subject to commissioner approval.

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