About 40 percent of the bears killed in New Jersey’s annual hunts since 2010 came from state-owned lands now off-limits to hunters, according to Department of Environmental Protection figures made available Tuesday – a day after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed an order halting this year’s black bear hunt on state land.
Murphy said during last year’s campaign he would seek to stop the hunt, though he said Monday that he does not have the power to unilaterally call this year’s hunt off.
Instead his order prevents hunting the animals on state property.
The DEP’s figures show that just over two-fifths of the bears killed over eight years came from state lands. Nearly 45 percent were hunted on private property.
The remainder were killed on federal as well as county or town property. In a few instances property ownership was unknown.
Opponents of bear hunting, who call it inhumane and unnecessary, cheered Murphy’s decision and called for officials to go further to stop the hunt altogether.
Former Democratic state Sen. Ray Lesniak, who introduced legislation calling for nonlethal bear control in 2016 before he left the Legislature, greeted Murphy’s order with an email that said “Three cheers for Gov. Murphy.”
The legislation is known as “Pedals’ Law,” after a bipedal black bear called Pedals. The animal became a social media phenom — caught in photos walking on his hind legs — and the focus of an anti-hunt rallying cry after officials said they believed he was killed in 2016’s bear hunt.
But supporters of the hunt say Murphy’s decision is not supported by studies, including DEP’s own recommendations that “controlled hunting is an effective way to reduce or stabilize bear populations.” They also question whether he has the authority to scale back the hunt.
“You’re not a king. This is not a kingdom. We’re not your subjects,” said John Rogalo, the vice president of the New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.
Murphy said the state Fish and Game Council has sole responsibility for setting hunting regulations and has authorized bear hunting through 2021.
New Jersey restarted regulated bear hunting in 2003 after a roughly 30-year pause. Another hunt was held in 2005. In 2010, under Republican Chris Christie, the state made the hunt annual.