N.J. bear hunt begins after judges rule against animal rights groups
The judges said they were not convinced by arguments that the state misused its emergency rule-making powers when it approved the new hunt. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
New Jersey is proceeding with its controversial bear hunt after a two-judge panel ruled Tuesday against a bid by a group of animal rights organizations to halt the hunt.
State Appellate Division Judges Lisa Rose and Carmen Messano ruled the organizations failed to demonstrate they are entitled to injunctive relief and dissolved Rose’s order from last week that had put a hold on the new bear hunt, which was set to begin Monday morning.
In a five-page opinion written by Rose, the judges acknowledged the “significant yet competing” public interests on both sides of the issue here,” but sided with state officials who said they need to protect the public from the growing bear population.
The judges also said they were not convinced by the organizations’ argument that the state had misused its emergency rule-making powers when it gave the bear hunt a green light at the Nov. 15 meeting of the New Jersey Fish and Game Council. Critics of the bear hunt were given notice of that meeting and time to comment on the council’s decision, the judges said.
The Department of Environmental Protection subsequently declared bear hunting season immediately open. It runs through Saturday, with a second hunting period set for Dec. 14-17 if hunters don’t kill 20% of the state’s tagged bears.
Dante DiPirro — an attorney who argued the case on behalf of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Friends of Animals — expressed disappointment in the ruling.
“This is bad policy for bears and it is bad policy in all substantive areas of law since there is now precedent that the state can manufacture a so-called ‘emergency’ and thus bypass rulemaking requirements and immediately implement new law,” he said. “True emergencies are things like earthquakes or nuclear plant meltdowns, not shooting bears as they go into hibernation.”
A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Fish and Game Council approved the new bear hunt three weeks ago after Gov. Phil Murphy said an increase in the bear population led him to change his mind on the issue. Murphy campaigned against the hunt when he first ran for governor in 2017.
State data shows 1,971 bear incidents have been reported in 2022 as of mid-October. In the same time period in 2021, 647 such incidents were reported — an increase of 237%.
Animal rights groups said they wanted the hunt postponed while they reviewed the state’s data. Tuesday’s decision means residents opposed to the bear hunt won’t truly be able to challenge the state’s argument that the bear population represents a public safety risk, DiPirro said.
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