Last month, Governor Murphy signed an executive order to prohibit bear hunting on state owned public lands. It is the first step in his campaign promise to ban the hunt entirely.
The political flip flop would lead you to believe that this is a fairly complicated issue. But biologists at New Jersey Fish and Wildlife have maintained their stance that hunting is an indispensable tool for managing the growing population.
New Jersey harbors one of the highest densities of black bears in the nation, and one of the most fecund. Their average litter size is 2.7 bears, much higher than the national average. Most of the bears in the Northwestern mountainous part of the state. The sheer density of the population has driven some bears into urban areas, where they have become a threat to property or life. This is a huge problem in itself. But the bigger issue is much scarier. Governor Murphy’s executive order has chipped away at the integrity of the North American Model of Wildlife Conversation.
In managing wildlife populations, wildlife biologists are guided by the results of scientific studies. With that knowledge, they can boost a population, lower a population, or maintain a population according to the environmental and cultural capacity of the landscape. In their arsenal of tools, the use of hunting seasons and hunters themselves reigns most effective. Additionally, hunting is profitable, returning funds back to the state fish and wildlife agency. According to biologists, management alternatives such as contraceptives and translocation efforts have been a complete failure. Governor Murphy is trying to fulfill his campaign progress, but in the process, he has both failed to eliminate the hunt completely and failed to provide a management solution as effective as hunting, leaving no clear direction on how to manage the bear population.
What is the state to do? Well, for now, its kind of a mess. Wildlife biologists need to figure out how to perform their public duty of managing wildlife healthily and efficiently while navigating through a political arena that completely neglects their profession. Governor Murphy’s executive order was created to protect the population of bears. But if biologists can’t perform their job, it will ultimately be the wildlife that suffers.