Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New Jersey State Commissioner Called Off 2006 Bear Hunt Last Week

Looks as though the state finally made the right decision. I’m glad to see that hunting groups haven’t fully taken over the NJ wildlife decision making process.


Bear hunt ruling heats up debate


Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Herald Staff Writer

Hunters may have a hard time convincing judges that a state commissioner was out of bounds when she called off the 2006 bear hunt last week, a Rutgers legal expert said.

The state Supreme Court had set up a system where the commissioner of Department of Environmental Protection would ensure the state Fish and Game Council's bear policy was based on sound science, said Carter Strickland Jr., associate professor and acting director of the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic.

Now, sportsmen will have to argue non-lethal alternatives have already been looked at closely, an argument Strickland believes is a "hard lift."

But pro-hunt official John Rogalo, from Stanhope, said New Jersey's policy "is the most comprehensive black bear management policy in North America" and it "fulfills the law in every way."

The Fish and Game Council developed the policy after a state Supreme Court ruling in 2004, and former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell signed off on it. It made the hunt an official part of the overall Fish and Game code, which the governor reviews every five years.

The debate over this year's bear hunt heated up on Oct. 30, when Gov. Jon Corzine asked the state DEP to determine if a hunt is necessary.

In a letter to the state Fish and Game Council last week, state DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson concluded there had not been adequate implementation of non-lethal bear control.

Reaction was swift on both sides of the issue. Animal rights groups applauded the move, saying they will replace their protest plans with fund raising and support for non-lethal alternatives like bear-resistant garbage cans. Rogalo and a local farmer, meanwhile, expressed their disappointment and said the decision could be costly.

The state Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and Safari International have already filed suit in appeals court against the DEP and Jackson.

"The black bear policy has already been through (the courts) as the best possible scenario," said Rogalo, vice president of the federation's northern region.

He said Jackson's letter to the Fish and Game Council was not based in documented fact, and the policy already "passed muster" under Campbell.

"Her opinion is that we should not have a bear hunt," he said. "That is not how we manage wildlife here in New Jersey. It's by the best science available. That's why our laws are set up the way they are, and not by a whichever-way-the-wind's-blowing type of management."

There was no definite time scheduled for arguments before the Appellate Division, but the matter should be taken up soon, Rogalo said.

Strickland, who is not involved in the litigation, also said the courts should be take up the issue quikcly

"They did last time, and they will this time," he said.

The state DEP was aware of the suit Monday.

"Our attorneys have received it and we are working on a response," DEP spokeswoman Elaine Makatura said Monday.

She declined to say whether the sportsmen had a valid argument, simply noting "the legal process will move forward and play out and determine a decision."

Two anti-hunt organizations, the New Jersey Animals Rights Alliance and Bear Education and Resource group (BEAR), filed a brief Monday in opposition to the sportsmen's lawsuit.

The groups had filed their own suit against the DEP and sportsmen clubs before last week's shift away from the hunt. Arguments in that suit were scheduled for Nov. 29 in Morristown.

"If the hunters win their lawsuit, I believe our lawsuit will go forward," NJARA attorney Doris Lin said.

The losing side will most likely take their issue to the state Supreme Court, but Strickland is doubtful the high court will take up the matter.

"The Supreme Court answered the question of what is the commissioner's role this time around," he said. "My guess is they will deny (the case) unless there is dissent among the judges."

The New Jersey Farm Bureau denounced the decision to abandon a bear hunt, citing crop damage. Bears have damaged more corn this year than last, especially in the northern part of the state, said Pegi Adam, a spokeswoman for the bureau.

Sussex farmer Richard Byma said bears eat and destroy portions of his best-tasting crop in August and September.

"They make a great big circle and sit and pull cornstalks around them," he said. "They go after good food, and it's not just one farm."

Byma lost an estimated $3,500 worth of his crop, or $350 per acre, at By-Acres Holsteins farm.

When asked if he supports the bear hunt, his reply was immediate: "Oh, you betcha, it's kind of going to get out of hand," he said. "Our legislature doesn't take the loss, we do. The governor doesn't take the loss, the farmers do."

Meanwhile, BEAR director Lynda Smith said the state's decision will allow her group to do good work instead of becoming bogged down in the courts. She and other anti-hunt residents were charged with disorderly persons offenses after incidents at protests in December.

She is confident the bear hunt will not go forward this year.

"Clearly the state Supreme Court has said the department commissioner has the ultimate authority, and she really took her time in reading over the plan."

Smith said she plans to write to the DEP and offer assistance through fundraising and volunteerism. BEAR has roughly 1,000 members, she said, including about 150 devoted active members in Sussex and Passaic counties.

"We're very excited about it and willing to do what we can," Smith said. "Certainly we want to be part of the solution. We're willing to step up to the plate and do it."

BEAR programs have included Adopt-a-Cop, which raises funds to provide officers with non-lethal bear control gear and training, she said. The group is also promoting its bear-resistent Critter Cans, which have a screw-on lid.

West Milford received $200,000 for a bear-proof trash can program, but the money was still in the bank as of early this month as the township chooses a vendor.

"They're trying to get the best possible can," said Smith, who lives in West Milford. "I'm confident the money will be spent this spring."

Funding and resource constraints were the reasons why non-lethal measures in the bear policy were not implemented, Jackson said in her findings.

Plans to implement funding for non-lethal bear management have not yet been made, since it has only been two working days since Jackson's announcement.

No comments:

Search for More Content

Custom Search
Bookmark and Share

Past Articles