N.J. bear hunt ends with 7% of state’s harvest goal met

By: - December 19, 2022 2:19 pm

Just 114 black bears were killed during the 2022 hunt, and in two counties, hunters killed zero bears, according to state data. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The bear hunt is over in New Jersey, and following a quick legal challenge and a four-day extension, 114 bears were killed, according to state data. 

That represents a 7% harvest rate, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. The state’s goal was 20%.

Hunters said the truncated bear hunt — no black bears were hunted in October — and the timing of the court battle meant fewer people participated compared to previous years. The legal challenge by animal rights groups delayed the start of the hunt by almost two days.

“No one expected a bear hunt this year, so I don’t know how many people were prepared on such short notice,” Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex) said Monday.

Other hunting experts also pointed to hunters’ busy schedules during deer season, bears starting hibernation, and holiday vacations as explanations for the low kill rate. 

Black bear hunting spanned across the northwest region of the state — which has the densest bear population and is known as “bear country” — along with parts of Mercer, Bergen, Somerset, and Passaic counties.

Sussex saw the most bears killed, with 59 harvests reported to the DEP. No bears were killed in Bergen or Mercer counties, and just one was killed in Somerset County.

Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the bear hunt would make a comeback on state lands after a four-year hiatus, with Murphy citing a sharp increase in the number of human-bear interactions and bear sightings.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said the December black bear hunt “always results in fewer bears being taken” than hunts in October because bears are more active in October and the weather tends to be nicer then.

It’s too early to tell the effect the low harvest will have on human-bear interactions or population projections, Hajna said. More than 3,000 bears are estimated to live in the Garden State. 

“Generally speaking, the removal of adult bears through a regulated hunt will serve to slow population growth. With the hunt reinstated, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife biologists will again be able to produce current population estimates for the northwestern part of the state to better understand changes in bear populations,” he said.

The last full bear hunting season was in 2017, with an October and a December hunt. More than 400 bears were killed, representing a 16% harvest rate, according to the DEP

The New Jersey Fish and Game Council’s plan to revise the state’s bear management policy — the council wants the hunt to continue for the next seven years —will be voted on in early 2023, after a public hearing scheduled for Jan. 18 and the ending of the public comment period Feb. 3.

“Not to beat a dead horse, but Governor Murphy has always been telling us to ‘follow the science’ on everything — COVID, masks, everything. We needed to follow it on this, too,” said Wirths. “If someday they say the population is under control, then I think you got to follow that too.” 

A spokesman for the governor’s office referred questions to the Department of Environmental Protection.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.